Restore the Voting Rights Act
What happened then?
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has been called the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in American history. The VRA prohibits racial discrimination in voting and has been amended and reauthorized by Congress on a bipartisan basis in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and, most recently, in 2006.
Why it still matters?
In June 2013, however, the Supreme Court invalidated the primary enforcement provision of the VRA, which had protected voters from racial discrimination for nearly 50 years. In that decision, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the persistence of voter discrimination and challenged Congress to come up with a new coverage formula to protect against it.
In the two years since then, Republican leaders in Congress have not taken up legislation to restore the VRA. Meanwhile, states around the country have moved to enact new voting restrictions, making it harder for students, elderly, disabled and minority voters to participate equally in the electoral process.
What’s happening now?
- Since 2010, new voting restrictions have been put in place in 22 states – 18 of them Republican led– making it harder for millions of eligible Americans to exercise their right to vote.
- According to a recent study by J. Morgan Kousser (Cal Tech) of more than 4,100 voting rights cases, DOJ inquiries, and settlements from 1957 to 2013, more than 90 percent of these “events” occurred in jurisdictions that had been subject to review under section 5 of the VRA.
- A recent study from the Center for American Progress gave 7 of the 9 previously covered states a grade “F” in ballot accessibility. The other 2 previously covered states (Alaska & Louisiana) were given “D’s” in the same category.
What needs to happen moving forward?
The Voting Rights Advancement Act (Advancement Act) would modernize the preclearance formula to cover states with a pattern of discrimination that puts voters at risk. Based on a review of recent voting rights violations, discrimination is not just a problem in the South. California, New York, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia would be required to have all of their voting changes precleared if the Advancement Act were signed into law.
The Advancement Act would also ensure that last-minute voting changes won’t adversely affect voters and protect voters from the types of voting changes that are most likely to be discriminatory against people of color and language minorities. In addition, the Advancement Act would enhance the ability of federal courts to apply preclearance review when needed, expand the federal observer program and improve protections for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The Advancement Act currently has 88 Democratic cosponsors in the House.