Voting Rights Act – Undoing

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in August 1965 and it has been reauthorized four times since, most recently by President George Bush in 2006.  The Voting Right Act serves to protect and enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments, in response to voter suppression in the 1960’s by state and local governments and law enforcement.

Here is an overview of important sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

Original jurisdictions of the Voting Rights Act covered: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. It also covered subdivisions, mostly counties, in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina.

Section 2: States the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race or color.

Section 3: Upholds the ability to enforce the 15th Amendment.

Section 4: Says citizen cannot be denied the right to vote for failed compliance with devices such as literacy tests.

The Voting Rights Act is often called the crown jewel of the African American Civil Rights Movement.  In its 5-4 decision on June 25, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court, limited use of a major part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in effect invalidates Section 4(b) – preclearance requirement a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act.

On June 25, 2013, Section 4(b) was ruled unconstitutional by a Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.  Chief Justice John Roberts in a majority decision wrote that “our country has changed” and the coverage formula “no longer characterize(s) voting in the covered jurisdictions.” “Because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states”. 

See Voting Rights Amendment Act

Section 5: This section “freezes (new) election practices or procedures in certain states until those procedures have been subjected to review.”

In the case of Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court upheld Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula by filing a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Since this Supreme Court decision in 2013 about 30 states have approved an array of restrictive voter ID laws, and elderly citizens who live in those states seemed particularly at risk of having their voting rights denied.  

Since this Supreme Court decision laws have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Texas  that hinder the ability of minorities to vote — under the pretense of preventing voting fraud. Requiring a driver’s license to vote is the most popular. But, millions of Americans don’t drive, or can’t afford a driver’s ID, and in some places like Texas, for example, it can be over a 100-mile drive to the nearest department of motor vehicles. States have  passed voter ID laws that removed provisions such as online voting registration, early voting, Sunday voting, same-day registration, and pre-registration, which had expanded means of voter registration. And in Alabama (where the same Shelby County is located) recently closed 31 driver’s license bureaus. “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed.” 

Many members of Congress are concerned about rights being curtailed in some states after this Supreme Court ruling through strict voter ID laws and other measures. A new bill Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, introduced by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, both members of the House Judiciary Committee, is aimed at updating and strengthening the law after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

Among other things, Voting Rights Amendment Act would require greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes to voting laws and set up a new nationwide coverage formula that would require states or jurisdictions to preclear changes to voting laws if they have a persistent record of voting rights violations over the last 15 years. It was not taken up. Sensenbrenner and Conyers introduced the same bill in the last Congress and while it garnered support from then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia that bill also went nowhere.

I encourage your comments and feedback.

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