Rebuilding the Voting Rights Act

Voters wait to cast ballots for the 2008 presidential election in Ohio.

Voters wait to cast ballots for the 2008 presidential election in Ohio. Image by Dean Beeler

September 23, 2013

Tomorrow is National Voter Registration Day, when citizens are urged to update their voter registration so they can be heard in future elections. Yet after the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the future of many Americans’ voting rights is far from clear. In that decision, the court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Before this decision, several states, counties, and townships were required to have any changes to their voting laws reviewed and approved by the Justice Department and federal courts. In Section 4, Congress determined which jurisdictions required this “preclearance” (usually areas with a history of voting suppression, such as literacy tests or poll taxes).

What this decision means is that states and election authorities with a proven history of enforcing discriminatory laws can now change voting requirements without having to prove they are not discriminating against voters. Would-be voters who fail to meet new voting rules could be turned away unless they can prove in court that the new laws are discriminatory.

AAUW finds that unacceptable. Just last month, we observed the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, when 250,000 people stood up and demanded the equal rights granted to all of us by our Constitution. The participants in that march 50 years ago took action to protect their rights, but the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision threatens those rights.

In states across the country, voting rights are under attack. Look at North Carolina, which just enacted one of the strictest voting laws: The state’s own board of elections says 64 percent of the women registered to vote in North Carolina lack the required identification — which means they may have problems voting in the next election. Our members of Congress can and should do something about state voting restrictions.

Tell Congress: We need you to fix the Supreme Court decision and come up with a bipartisan solution to protect voting rights nationwide. We needed this solution yesterday.

By:   |   September 23, 2013

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