The Voting Rights Act

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 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. Since the ruling, several states previously covered under preclearance moved to restrict voting rights. Since then, many states, including several previously covered by Section 5, has moved to implement restrictive voting measures.

In the years afterthe Shelby County decision, a bipartisan group of lawmakers — led by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — have introduced multiple bills to strengthen the Voting Rights Act and restore its core protections. 


Shelby County v. Holder: A Catastrophic Decision on Voting Rights

On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court swept away a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.

The Effects of Shelby County v. Holder

States previously covered by Section 5 preclearance are implementing new obstacles to voting at an alarming pace.

Modern Attacks on the Voting Rights Act

Over half a century after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, this historic civil rights law is under unprecedented attack. 

Next Steps: How We Can Restore the Voting Rights Act

The Brennan Center's Solutions 2018 Democracy Agenda outlines a series of concrete steps that the federal government must take to restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act. 


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