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June 25, 2014 0

One Year After Shelby, Voters Are Getting Wet

Today marks the one year anniver­sary of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the land­mark Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.voting-rights-amendment-act-2014

Sec­tion 5 of the VRA requires fed­eral gov­ern­ment approval for any elec­tion law changes—issues rang­ing from polling site loca­tions to redraw­ing con­gres­sional dis­trict lines—in juris­dic­tions with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices. But one year ago, the Supreme Court held uncon­sti­tu­tional the for­mula used to deter­mine which states and local­i­ties would have to sub­mit their vot­ing changes to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, find­ing its ori­gins in vot­ing sta­tis­tics and statutes from decades past too atten­u­ated to jus­tify present day fed­eral intervention.

In Shelby, Chief Jus­tice Roberts cited advances in minor­ity vot­ing and reg­is­tra­tion in the cov­ered juris­dic­tions, not­ing that African Amer­i­can turnout sur­passes white turnout in some of the pre­vi­ously cov­ered states.

But Jus­tice Gins­burg, in her pow­er­ful dis­sent, analo­gized strik­ing down key parts of the VRA to “throw­ing away your umbrella in a rain­storm because you are not get­ting wet.” In essence Jus­tice Gins­burg pre­dicted that, with­out the pro­tec­tions of the VRA, voter sup­pres­sion prob­lems would rain down on those for­merly cov­ered juris­dic­tions once more.

Indeed, a new report by the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Human Rights sug­gests that the skies remain omi­nously over­cast. Moments after the Supreme Court announced its deci­sion, Texas imple­mented voter ID and redis­trict­ing laws pre­vi­ously held invalid under Sec­tion 5. Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi sim­i­larly moved for­ward with voter ID laws pre­vi­ously held at bay. Weeks after the deci­sion, North Car­olina acted to elim­i­nate same-day voter reg­is­tra­tion, restrict early vot­ing, and enact one of the tough­est voter ID laws in the country.

Vir­ginia fur­ther tight­ened a voter ID law pre­vi­ously approved by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in a more lenient form. Around the coun­try, leg­is­la­tors con­tinue to intro­duce new bills that threaten to restrict the right to vote.

The impact of these laws on minor­ity vot­ers remains to be seen, and some face legal obsta­cles before going into effect. Recent fed­eral court deci­sions in Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia inval­i­dat­ing voter ID laws demon­strate that avenues may remain for fed­eral enforce­ment of vot­ing rights. And efforts are ongo­ing to revive Sec­tion 5 through lit­i­ga­tion and through new leg­is­la­tion. But the devel­op­ments in the one year since Shelby County serve as an impor­tant reminder that the right to vote remains ten­u­ous and must be vig­i­lantly pro­tected, par­tic­u­larly with­out the safe­guards of Sec­tion 5.

On this one-year anniver­sary of Shelby, take action and urge Con­gress to restore Sec­tion 5 by pass­ing the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014.

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