Voting Rights Act Fast Facts
Posted January 7, 2014
Here is a look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which serves to protect and enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments. It was enacted in response to voter suppression in the 1960s by state and local governments and law enforcement.
Important sections: Original jurisdictions: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. Also, subdivisions, mostly counties, in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina.
Jurisdictions are made based on a formula containing two elements: If less than 50% of the voting age population is registered to vote by November 1, 1964, or if less that 50% voted in the 1964 presidential election. It also guarantees the right to register and vote to citizens with "limited English proficiency."
Section 2: States the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race or color.
Section 3: Upholds the ability to enforce the 15th Amendment.
Section 4: Says citizen cannot be denied the right to vote for failed compliance with devices such as literacy tests. It also designates the formulated jurisdictions outlined in Section 5. The requirement for preclearance of voting changes was ruled unconstitutional in a 2013 US Supreme Court decision. "The effect of the Shelby County decision is that the jurisdictions identified by the coverage formula in Section 4(b) no longer need to seek preclearance for the new voting changes, unless they are covered by a separate court order entered under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act."
Section 5: This section "freezes (new) election practices or procedures in certain states until the new procedures have been subjected to review." Review can only be done by the US Attorney General or by filing a lawsuit before the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Yet Section 5 is basically unenforceable as there is no longer a preclearance requirement in Section 4.
Timeline:March 7, 1965 - Bloody Sunday - About 600 non-violent voting rights marchers heading to Montgomery, Alabama's state capital, are attacked by state troopers in Selma.
March 15, 1965 - President Lyndon Johnson, in a speech before a joint session of Congress says: "There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong, deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country."
August 6, 1965 - Is signed into law by President Johnson to protect and enforce the 15th Amendment.
1970 - Congress extends provisions for five years, changing the formula in Section 4 to reflect 1968 (instead of 1964). Coverage is added in jurisdictions within 10 more states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Wyoming. Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts and Wyoming win "bailout" lawsuits.
1975 - Congress extends provisions for seven years, changes the formula to 1972 and broadens the discrimination description as also encompassing American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives or people of Spanish heritage. This addition to the formula essentially covers Alaska, Arizona and Texas, and includes parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.
1982 - Congress extends the special provisions in Section 4 for 25 years, but makes no changes.
2006 - Congress renews special provisions and extends the act until 2031.
June 25, 2013 - The US Supreme Court decides (5-4) that formulated jurisdictions under Section 5 no longer have to have new voting laws pre-cleared by the attorney general or the federal district court in the District of Columbia. Chief Justice John Roberts explains that "our country has changed" and the formula "no longer characterize(s) voting in the covered jurisdictions."
February 11, 2015 - An amendment to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1964 is introduced to the House of Representatives. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 is focused on updating a portion of the law after the US Supreme Court struck down an "outdated" portion of VRA that protected racial discrimination in voting.
March 7, 2015 - President Barack Obama signs legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal "to the Foot Soldiers who participated in the Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in March of 1965, which served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act."