As Black voters and other voters of color across the country face the greatest assault on their voting rights since the Jim Crow era, a growing number of states are acting to protect the right to vote and safeguard our democracy. With the passage of State Voting Rights Acts (VRAs), states can provide key protections to their constituents that prevent and guard against discriminatory voting practices and policies. With a Congress that can’t seem to act and a Supreme Court that has undercut the Voting Rights Act over the past decade, states must lead by example to protect our right to vote.
Since voters of color overcame significant obstacles to make their voices heard in the 2020 election, hundreds of restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 49 states. With voter suppression rampant across the nation and little progress to reinstate the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, state VRAs are critical to protecting voters at the ballot box and ensuring a future of fair and equal voting rights. Even after Congress restores and strengthens the federal VRA (as it must), state VRAs will remain important tools for fighting discrimination.
In states across the nation—with diverse demographics, population sizes, and geographical locations—voters continue to face persistent barriers to exercising their right to vote. Conditions that foster voting discrimination — such as unfairly drawn districts that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, insufficient language assistance for voters who don’t speak English, and even outright voter intimidation — severely impact the ability of voters to participate in our democracy fully and fairly.
In recent years, with Supreme Court decisions such as in the cases of Shelby v. Holder and Brnovich v. DNC that upended or eroded essential protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and rampant restrictive voting policies, these barriers have significantly increased.
The consequences are dire, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown, first-time, rural, and limited English-speaking voters. It is more important than ever for states to take the lead in enacting state voting rights provisions that are crucial in protecting voters from discriminatory voting policies and practices.
State VRAs provide protections that are essential for voters to fairly participate in our democracy. By enforcing comprehensive, clear standards, state VRAs prevent discrimination and expand opportunities to people disproportionately impacted by voter suppression.
Momentum is growing, as states — including California (2002), Washington (2018), Oregon (2019), Virginia (2021), New York (2022), Connecticut (2023) — have enacted State VRAs. Other states such as Maryland, and New Jersey have efforts underway.
In states that have taken the lead in enacting State VRAs, this legislation has already had a significant impact on voters. For example, following the California VRA’s enactment in 2002, nearly 150 jurisdictions have voluntarily moved away from at-large elections that often weaken or drown out the voices of voters of color—and this has led to significant increases in the diversity of city councils.
Not surprisingly, state-level protections that prevent unequal access to the ballot are extremely popular. According to a March 2023 survey by Secure Democracy USA, 75% of Connecticut voters support a Connecticut Voting Rights Act (CTVRA) across race and party lines. Additionally, 89% of Black voters in Connecticut want their representatives to prioritize the protections in the CTVRA.
State VRAs are an important tool to ensure that all voters can fairly and fully participate in our democracy, especially Black voters and other voters of color who historically have been denied this right. State VRAs give voters and community groups tools not only to address voting discrimination, but also to prevent it from happening in the first place. In recent years, efforts to implement discriminatory voting practices and policies have increased across the nation, making this legislation all the more necessary.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was enacted as federal voting rights legislation to ensure all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice. When it was passed in 1965, the VRA was intended to protect Black voters from Jim Crow era voting laws and gave voters a mechanism to challenge discriminatory laws in federal court. However, several of the VRA’s protections against discrimination, including Section 5 preclearance, have been weakened or dismantled in recent years. State VRAs restore some of these critical protections for voters at the state level.
Yes. State VRAs provide critical protections that are not ensured at the federal level. Even if the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are restored, federal law will not be as granular in addressing each state’s particular needs. State VRAs also open a vital avenue for voters to protect their rights in state court. State VRAs provide efficient, practical ways to identify and resolve barriers to equal participation in local democracy.
Preclearance is based on the simple principle that when it comes to a matter as fundamental as the right to vote, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
State VRAs contain a framework to determine which local governments come under the preclearance requirement based on a recent history of race-based discrimination in voting or other arenas such as housing or the criminal legal system. For those places in the preclearance program, the legislation provides a streamlined, time-limited administrative procedure to get an expert review of key voting changes by state officials before they go into effect, to ensure they will not discriminate. Counties or towns can always go to court as an alternative or to appeal.
State VRA preclearance programs are modeled after Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was one of the most effective provisions ever designed for eradicating voting discrimination. In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the framework that determined which jurisdictions were covered by the federal VRA’s Section 5 preclearance process, which was widely regarded as the “heart” of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Before being dismantled, Section 5 of the VRA prevented and halted discriminatory voting policies. A strong State VRA restores this essential protection.
State VRAs provide strong protections in the redistricting process, where every ten years, states and localities redraw the lines that shape electoral districts. Redistricting protections in State VRAs help to ensure the fairness of district maps, including local maps that can often dilute Black voters’ voices, particularly in jurisdictions with at-large elections. In addition, if a redistricting plan is challenged for being discriminatory and the local jurisdiction voluntarily fixes it, it must go through a specific process that includes public input. In most State VRA bills, local redistricting in covered jurisdictions is also subject to the preclearance process which ensures that discriminatory maps aren’t used in the first place, so voters don’t have to go to the polls in unfair districts while they fight in court to protect their rights.
Yes. While some state laws focus on increasing voting access through affirmative policies that set rules or practices like automatic voter registration or early voting, State VRAs focus particularly on enacting protections that make voting fairer and free of discrimination. Multi-pronged and comprehensive in approach, State VRAs address voting discrimination, including practices and policies that present challenges to Black and Brown, first-time, rural, and limited English-speaking voters.
LDF Original Content
Allen v. Milligan will have a far-reaching impact on the future of voting rights and redistricting. LDF returned to the Supreme Court to present oral argument in the case
LDF Original Content
Understanding the role of race the redistricting process as a means of ensuring equitable representation and political power is critical.
LDF has been working in key states throughout the 2021 redistricting cycle to ensure maps are drawn fairly and do not discriminate against Black voters.