The Voting Rights Act
Protecting Minority Voting Rights
Minority voters still face significant obstacles in registering to vote and casting ballots. Attempts to manipulate the law in ways that will disadvantage communities of color continue nationwide. The ACLU is fighting to protect the voting rights of all minority communities by ensuring the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been protecting racial and language minorities’ access to voting. It requires jurisdictions that have a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain approval, or preclearance, before changing their election laws.
The Voting Rights Act continues to protect the voting rights of millions of voters across the country today. This landmark civil rights legislation is a critical safeguard to ensuring equal access to the ballot and guaranteeing our most fundamental right as Americans. Since its passage in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has guaranteed millions of minority voters a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted. The ACLU is fighting to protect the voting rights of all minority communities by ensuring the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
Although we have made significant gains in voting rights, discrimination at the polls persists today and cannot be dismissed as a relic of the past. Minority voters still face significant obstacles in registering to vote and casting ballots. As we've seen over the last few years in states across the country, efforts to suppress the vote continue and, although the tactics have changed, the goal of disfranchisement remains the same.
After record minority voter turnout and registration in 2008, we’ve seen widespread efforts to suppress the vote targeting minority communities. Modern day voting restrictions like photo ID requirements, restrictions to registration and cuts to early voting target voters who have been historically disenfranchised.
Poll taxes and literacy tests were among the many discriminatory laws that were enforced to keep African Americans from voting. In an effort to tear down these historical barriers and to protect the guarantee that the right to vote is not denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
There are two key sections of the VRA that are critical in protecting the voting rights of minority voters: Section 2 and Section 5. Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices and procedures that have either the purpose or the effect of discriminating on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group. Section 5 of the Act requires jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear,” or get federal approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ), for any new voting practices or procedures, and to show that they do not have a discriminatory purpose or effect. DOJ is charged with upholding and enforcing the Voting Right Act. If the agency finds that a new voting practice or procedure has a discriminatory purpose or effect, pre-clearance will be denied, stopping the discriminatory law before it goes into effect. DOJ can also challenge discriminatory laws in court.
The constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act is before the Supreme Court of the United States in Shelby v. Holder. Arguments for the case are February 27, and a decision is expected in June. Read more »
With new laws in effect, up to 5 million voters could be turned away at the polls in November. We cannot afford to have laws that push people out of the electorate. In order for this to be a true democracy, every eligible American must be able to vote. Read more »
Whether Congress properly exercised its authority to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments when it extended the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 based on an extensive legislative record documenting ongoing discrimination in the covered jurisdictions. Read more »
The ACLU intervened in Nix v. Holder (previously Laroque v. Holder) on behalf of residents of Kinston, N.C. and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP in order to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is protected and upheld. Read more »