This weekend marks the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the signature achievements of American democracy. This landmark piece of legislation is one of the most important and effective civil rights laws ever passed. But this anniversary is not merely a time to celebrate the VRA, it is a clarion call to restore this vital law to its full power.
“This will be the first presidential election in more than half a century without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act in place,” noted Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision, which gutted Section 5 of the VRA, a wave of discriminatory voting changes have been unleashed on communities of color ahead of one of the most consequential elections in our history,” Ifill continued.
In response to these assaults on the right to vote, LDF has been tracking discriminatory voting measures in Democracy Diminished, an invaluable and comprehensive state-by-state report that examines state and local voting changes that have resulted in (or have the potential to result in) widespread voter suppression. Democracy Diminished reveals discriminatory voting changes in dozens of local elections, changes that all too often escape public notice.
“Many Americans may not be aware that many states and localities formerly covered by Section 5 of the VRA have implemented or proposed photo ID laws and other discriminatory measures in the wake of the Shelby decision,” said Leah Aden, Senior Counsel at LDF and principal author of Democracy Diminished. “Critically, some of these jurisdictions withheld putting their laws into place until after Section 5 of the Act was immobilized and all have the potential to individually and collectively harm hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters.”
LDF is also aggressively challenging discriminatory barriers to voting in court, including in Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana. In a string of recent victories, like in Texas, courts around the country have vindicated the right to vote as a core principle of our democracy.
“Despite these victories, substantial threats to equal political participation persist. There is much more work to be done to secure full and fair access to the ballot for every American. Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte needs to do his job and abandon the policy of obstruction that he has adopted,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF. “Representative Goodlatte and the rest of Congress must act swiftly to hold hearings and pass critical legislation to restore the VRA to its full force,” Nelson concluded.
Ultimately, the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 to ensure access to the ballot to communities of color nationwide. Thus, there is no better way to celebrate the Voting Rights Act than to get ready to vote in elections up and down the ballot. LDF and key partner organizations are offering Prepared to Vote 2016 to equip voters with information about how to comply with election laws, and urges Americans to learn about their rights to full, free, and fair access to the ballot box.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.