Crucial Voter Discrimination Protection Provision Struck Form Voting Rights Act


The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was enacted to insure that no federal, state or local government may in any way impede people from registering to vote or voting because of their race or ethnicity.  Most provisions in the VRA, and specifically the portions that guarantee that no one may be denied the right to vote because of his or her race or color, are permanent.

Section 5 of the VRA, which was originally set to expire after 5 years, requires certain jurisdictions which have an established history of state- or jurisdiction-administered disenfranchisement based on race to obtain advance approval or “preclearance” from the US Department of Justice Voting Rights section or the US District Court in D.C. before they can make any changes to voting practices or procedures.  Examples of these changes include “redistricting”, or the re-drawing of congressional district boundaries which happens every 10 years as the result of the census; a change in the date, time, place, or manner under which an election is held; or the documentation needed to register to vote.  Federal approval is to be given as soon as the state or jurisdiction proves that the proposed change would not abridge the right to vote on account of race or color.  

On February 27, 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which challenged the constitutionality of the “preclearance” provisions of the VRA.  The NAACP submitted an Amicus Brief on behalf of Attorney General Holder and the Voting Rights Act.  On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in which the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local jurisdictions must comply under Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.  This means that there is no longer a mechanism in place to prevent states with a history of voter disenfranchisement from enacting such laws.

Thus it is now up to Congress and the President to pass a new law to determine which jurisdictions should need to be “precleared” before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures.  Over the next few months, the NAACP will work with Members of Congress and the Administration, to craft a bipartisan, bicameral bill that can and will get signed into law which protects the voting rights of every American, regardless of his or her race or ethnicity.

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