Equal Access to the Ballot

On “Bloody Sunday,” nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams and I led 600 peaceful, nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in Alabama. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were attacked by state troopers who tear-gassed, clubbed and whipped us and trampled us with horses. I was hit in the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized that day.In response, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act and later signed it into law. We have come a great distance since then, in large part thanks to the act, but efforts to undermine the voting power of minorities did not end after 1965. They still persist today. (Representative John Lewis Washington Post Feb 24, 2013)

“Voting is the cornerstone of democracy. And yet, throughout our history we have excluded indispensable voices from this fundamental right. African-Americans, women and young people all risked their lives for and eventually gained the right to vote. Voter turnout in the 2008 election was the most racially diverse in American history, closing the longstanding gap between white and minority voter participation. In response to this historic moment, however, lawmakers nationwide have erected more barriers to the ballot box.” (American Civil Liberties Union)

Voting Rights Act

“The Voting Rights Act, adopted initially in 1965 and extended in 1970, 1975, and 1982, is generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress. The Act codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment’s permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. In addition, the Act contains several special provisions that impose even more stringent requirements in certain jurisdictions throughout the country” “….any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction — or any political subunit within it — cannot legally be enforced unless and until the jurisdiction first obtains the requisite determination by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or makes a submission to the Attorney General. This requires proof that the proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.(DOJ Website).

Introduction to Federal Voting Rights Act

Before the Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Preclearance – Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

How jurisdications can bailout of the preclearance provisions

Assault on the Voting Rights Act

“States are making it harder and harder for people to vote, virtually guaranteeing that many people won’t really have the right at all. Poll taxes and literacy tests have given way to more modern voter suppression tactics packaged as voter ID laws, restrictions to voter registration and cuts to early voting. With these new laws in effect, up to 5 million voters could be turned away at the polls in November” (Excerpted from American Civil Liberities Union website) 

“The conservative majority on the Roberts Court issued another damaging and intellectually dishonest ruling on Tuesday. It eviscerated enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, in which Congress kept the promise of a vote for every citizen. But it did not rule on the constitutional validity of the idea that some places have such strong records of discrimination that they must seek federal approval before they may change their voting rules. Instead, the 5-to-4 ruling usurped Congress’s power and struck down the formula that it has repeatedly reauthorized to determine which states fall into that category.

“The Supreme Court invited Congress to rewrite the formula, which has a disingenuous ring. The justices know full well that lawmakers, who failed to expand the coverage formula in 2006, are extremely unlikely to do it now. And so the preclearance rule lies dormant.

The Justice Department is still free to sue jurisdictions over their voting policies after the fact, and should, as often as necessary, because such lawsuits will become an even more important tool to ensure justice. But that is not a long-term substitute for the preclearance rule. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her impassioned dissent, such suits have proved to be a less effective tool against politicians determined to find ways block access to the polls. The jurisdictions covered by the preclearance rule are, for the most part, firmly in that category.” (New York Times June 25, 2013)

Guide to the Supreme Court Decision on Voting Rights

What the voting rights ruling act means for voters 

For up-to-date information on the struggle to ensure equal access to the ballot and safegrading voting rights see ACLU Voting Rights News and Information