The Voting Rights Act: A Resource Page

January 23, 2014

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. As the leading democracy of the world, the U.S. should work to keep voting free, fair, and accessible. That’s why the Voting Rights Act is so important. It makes sure every citizen, regardless of their race, has an equal opportunity to have a say and participate in our great democracy.

On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, removing a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting. Under Section 5 of the landmark civil rights law, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must seek pre-approval of changes in voting rules that could affect minorities. This process, known as “preclearance,” blocks discrimination before it occurs. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 4 — which determines the states and localities covered by Section 5 — arguing that current conditions require a new coverage formula.

On January 16, 2014, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and others, introduced a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. The bill would, among other changes:

  • Require jurisdictions with a recent record of repeated Voting Rights Act violations to pre-clear election law changes.
  • Expand the current “bail-in” procedures, which allow courts to subject jurisdictions to preclearance.  
  • Create a uniform requirement to inform voters of certain pending voting changes.
  • Enhance the ability of lawyers to halt discriminatory election measures before they can harm citizens.
  • Allow federal observers to monitor elections to ensure compliance with laws protecting the rights of Americans who speak limited English.

Read more background here.

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This page compiles all of the Brennan Center’s recent resources on the Voting Rights Act and ideas on how to move forward after the Supreme Court’s decision.


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