The Voting Rights Act

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.

Major Dates in the Voting Rights Act

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.

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.

Section 5 of the Act required 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.

In June 2013, in a huge blow to democracy, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula used in Section 5. 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.

Importantly, however, the 5-4 decision does not strike down Section 5 itself, leaving it to Congress to devise a new coverage formula. ACLU is working with Congress to devise a new formula.

In January 2014, a bipartisan group of legislators in Congress took the first step toward developing a new formula and modernizing the Voting Rights Act: they introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, which contains a set of voting protections that are flexible, forward-looking, and written to capture recent discrimination and stop discriminatory changes before elections take place. These include a rolling preclearance formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent, egregious voting records, requiring voting changes be preapproved; an expanded judicial bail-in provision; an enhanced ability for plaintiffs to obtain preliminary injunctive relief for some voting changes; and requirements for jurisdictions to provide public notice of proposed voting changes.

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.

In recent years, 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.

 
COURT CASES

Shelby County v. Holder

In the CourtsWhether 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 »

 
COURT CASES

Nix v. Holder

In the CourtsThe 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 »

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