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Why Latinos Must Weigh in on Current Voting Rights Case

With the Latino share of the electorate set to double within two decades, protecting the right to vote is more important than ever. Here are the top 10 reasons the Latino community must weigh in on the Supreme Court’s current Voting Rights Act case.

March 14, 2013

Crossposted at Vida Vibrante.

The Voting Rights Act is under scrutiny in a current Supreme Court case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. The 1965 Act, a legislation enacted because of the civil rights movement’s demands for equity, justice, and human rights, outlaws discriminatory voting practices that have been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. 

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the Latino share of the electorate will double within two decades. This is one of the many reasons why protecting the right to vote is so important for each and every member of the Latino community. Following are the top 10 reasons why we must weigh in on the current voting rights case.

#1. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an important piece of civil rights legislation.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local governments don’t pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race.

#2. The Voting Rights Act helps everyone have better access to the ballot box.

The Voting Rights Act does a number of important things: it outlaws literacy tests, appoints federal examiners in certain areas to register voters and monitor elections, and criminalizes voter intimidation, threats, and coercion.

#3. Section 5 is a vital part of the Voting Rights Act.

One of the most critical parts of the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, or the “preclearance” provision. Section 5 of the law requires certain states, cities, and counties — including those with large populations of Latino voters, like Arizona, Texas, and certain counties in California and Florida — to submit any changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal district court in Washington, D.C. for approval before implementation. These jurisdictions must prove that the proposed change will not have the effect of discriminating against minority voters. Section 5 applies to all or part of 16 states.

#4. Section 5 is an important tool now.

Between 1982 and 2006, the Voting Rights Act blocked more than 1,000 proposed discriminatory voting changes. Without Section 5’s protection, these changes would have gone into effect and harmed minority voters. Just last year, states such as Texas, Florida, and South Carolina tried to pass laws that would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of minority voters to cast a ballot in the election. Section 5 was able to block or substantially modify these discriminatory laws before they went into effect.

#5. Shelby County is covered by Section 5.

In 2010, Shelby County filed a lawsuit, Shelby County v. Holder, claiming that Congress did not have the required constitutional authority when it reauthorized Section 5 in 2006. Shelby County wants the law to be invalidated not only in Alabama, but everywhere that Section 5 applies.

#6. Shelby County, Alabama has a recent history of discrimination in voting.

In 2008, Calera, one of the county’s six municipalities, enacted a redistricting plan without complying with the Voting Rights Act, which led to the inability of the city’s only black councilman to compete fairly. Under Section 5, however, Calera was forced to abandon the discriminatory redistricting plan and the former black councilman was able to win a seat on the city council.

#7. The Voting Rights Act has firm constitutional basis in the 15th Amendment.

The 15th Amendment ensures the right to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race, and gives Congress the authority to protect this right.

#8. In 2006, Congress voted to reauthorize Section 5 with a near unanimous vote. 

In 2006, after holding over 20 hearings and reviewing more than 15,000 pages of evidence, Republicans and Democrats voted overwhelmingly to approve the Voting Rights Act for 25 mote years —98–0 in the Senate and 390–33 in the House. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law.

#9. If Section 5 falls, fair representation for Latinos and other communities of color is at risk.

Without the VRA, discriminatory voting practices will be easier for states to adopt and more difficult to combat. Voting changes will take effect with far less scrutiny before implementation. The other tools for challenging discriminatory voting rules will remain, but Section 5 requires federal approval in some jurisdictions before voter changes take effect, as opposed to after the measure is in place.
#10. We must protect the Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder on February 27, 2013, and is expected to issue a decision this summer. The Voting Rights Act is a real life manifestation of our Constitution’s promise that every American citizen, regardless of race, has the equal right to vote. A decision to uphold Section 5 will protect many Latino voters against discrimination at the ballot box and provide opportunities for Latinos to elect their candidates of choice.

Photo by nathangibbs.