Voting Rights Act
Voting Rights Act
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act was legislation in the U.S. constitution enacted in 1965 to overcome prejudices at all levels of government that prevented African Americans and other minorities from voting. The Voting Rights Act is one of the most influential pieces of legislation that resulted from the efforts of the Civil Rights movement. The Voting Rights Act Section 5 required 16 states to present the U.S. Department of justice with redistricting plans for clearance. Preclearance was a process that sought the preapproval for all the changes associated with voting. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act contains this provision, which suggests that a panel of three judges or the Department of Justice was to preclear any suggestions to change the requirements to vote or voting prequalification or any standard, practice, or system with anything to do with voting.
The 16 states that were especially required to submit changes for preclearance were those that had a history of discrimination and low minority turnout. These states were required to prove that the changes they proposed did not in any way target the minority in a discriminatory manner. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was aimed at minimizing voter discrimination, improve turnout, and guarantee each citizen equal opportunity to appoint their choice candidates. Preclearance was, however, enacted as a temporary act and has been renewed four times since 1965. In 2013 it was rendered unconstitutional under the 10th amendment and was repealed.
The Shelby County decision
In 2013, the Supreme Court concluded that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was no longer constitutional under the 10th amendment (Bathija). This shifted power back to the States to regulate elections (Department of Justice). This decision has already attracted negativity, such as the enactment of photo I.D. law in Texas. This act by Texas provided ammunition for people that think preclearance should remain a function of the federal government. In their defense, Texas immediately enacted one of the strictest laws in the country that required voters to provide very few and targeted forms of identification while ignoring the most common types of identification. In 2014, less than a year after Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was repealed, the rate of turn out in Texas dropped 5 points in comparison to 2010 (Brandeisky, Chen, & Tigas). Those for the repeal of Section 5 argue that the victory under section 2 is an indication that the repeal of section 5 would not be that fatal. But tell that to the 600,000 minorities registered as voters that were denied their right to vote for clearly discriminatory reasons.
Repealing Section 5 sent voters into the 2016 elections with weak federal laws protecting the right of the minority to vote. A significant number of Americans at 81 percent are in support of section 5, while 69 percent want Congress to bring the law back before the next elections. This group requires Congress to update the laws to fit the discriminations that conform to this age. Those against having the federal government oversee preclearance claim that it is a win for voters because the decision to allow a bill or not lies with them. Voters can take legal action against discriminatory laws, which shifts power and decision to more people compared to the few chosen by Section 5.
On the same note, those that support the repeal of section 5 cite the lack of relevance of the law in modern times. They suggest whether the law is there or not has no effect, and it being inapplicable today means it should not be in the constitution. Those against this opinion believe the discrimination is still there, with the difference being its evolution.
North Carolina enacted the H.B. 589 a few weeks following Shelby intending to keep African Americans from voting. This law’s voter-ID requirement during the 2016 elections accepted only a few identification documents. As a result, 300,000 (34 percent) registered voters of African descent were locked out the ballot for lacking one of those IDS (Tokaji). The law also abolished same-day registration, a provision that allowed voters to register on the same day of the election or rectify problems in their registration information and voter I.D.s. Forty percent of African Americans of the voting age used the system in the previous polls, although African Americans, in general, make only 20 percent of the general population of voting age.
Dealing with the Shelby County Decision
Because the liberty given to states to enact voting regulations is being clearly misused, I would begin with creating awareness and rallying people to match against these prejudices. This way, the voice of the people will be heard and increase pressure and create a way for the next step; legal action. With the right number of people in support of a lawsuit, the chances of success are higher. The third thing is to rally those that are not registered to do so because it is understood that a significant number of minorities do not come out to vote.
Bathija, S. “5 Reasons Why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Enhances Our Democracy.” Last modified February 19, 2013. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/courts/reports/2013/02/19/53721/5-reasons-why-section-5-of-the-voting-rights-act-enhances-our-democracy/.
Brandeisky, K., H. Chen, and M. Tigas. “Everything That’s Happened Since Supreme Court Ruled on Voting Rights Act ? ProPublica.” Last modified November 4, 2014. https://www.propublica.org/article/voting-rights-by-state-map.
Department of Justice. “About Section 5 Of The Voting Rights Act.” Last modified December 4, 2017. https://www.justice.gov/crt/about-section-5-voting-rights-act.
Tokaji, D. P. “The Right to Vote in an Age of Discontent.” n.d. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/we-the-people/right-to-vote-in-age-of-discontent/.