The long steady march of inclusion of American citizens in the democratic process
is being threatened.
Voter suppression and gerrymandered congressional districts
must be set right after the 2020 election by
legislation reapportionment and enforcement that
upholds the voting rights of all citizens.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Voting Rights Act is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.
Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency in November 1963 upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the presidential race of 1964, Johnson was officially elected in a landslide victory and used this mandate to push for legislation he believed would improve the American way of life, such as stronger voting-rights laws.
After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Nevertheless, in the ensuing decades, various discriminatory practices were used to prevent African Americans, particularly those in the South, from exercising their right to vote.
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, voting rights activists in the South were subjected to various forms of mistreatment and violence. One event that outraged many Americans occurred on March 7, 1965, when peaceful participants in a Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights were met by Alabama state troopers who attacked them with nightsticks, tear gas and whips after they refused to turn back.Some protesters were severely beaten and bloodied, and others ran for their lives. The incident was captured on national television. In the wake of the shocking incident, Johnson called for comprehensive voting rights legislation. In a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, the president outlined the devious ways in which election officials denied African-American citizens the vote.
Blacks attempting to vote often were told by election officials that they had gotten the date, time or polling place wrong, that they possessed insufficient literacy skills or that they had filled out an application incorrectly. Blacks, whose population suffered a high rate of illiteracy due to centuries of oppression and poverty, often would be forced to take literacy tests, which they sometimes failed.
Johnson also told Congress that voting officials, primarily in Southern states, had been known to force black voters to “recite the entire Constitution or explain the most complex provisions of state laws,” a task most white voters would have been hard-pressed to accomplish. In some cases, even blacks with college degrees were turned away from the polls.The voting rights bill was passed in the U.S. Senate by a 77-19 vote on May 26, 1965. After debating the bill for more than a month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 333-85 on July 9.
Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965, with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders present at the ceremony.
The act banned the use of literacy tests, provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote, and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
In 1964, the 24th Amendment made poll taxes illegal in federal elections; poll taxes in state elections were banned in 1966 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1965, at the time of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there were six African-American members of the U.S. House of Representatives and no blacks in the U.S. Senate. By 1971, there were 13 members of the House and one black member of the Senate.
Although the Voting Rights Act passed, state and local enforcement of the law was weak, and it often was ignored outright, mainly in the South and in areas where the proportion of blacks in the population was high and their vote threatened the political status quo.
Still, the Voting Rights Act gave African-American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout. In Mississippialone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969.
Since its passage, the Voting Rights Act has been amended to include such features as the protection of voting rights for non-English speaking American citizens. From https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-actShelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.
On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula. Some critics have said that the ruling has made it easier for state officials to make it harder for black and other minority voters to vote. Five years after the ruling, nearly 1000 polling places had been closed in the U.S., with many of the closed polling places in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that the changing of voter locations and reduction in voting locations can reduce voter turnout. There were also cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls and imposition of strict voter ID laws. Virtually all restrictions on voting subsequent to the ruling were by Republicans.
For nearly a decade, Americans have experienced a high-pitched and often highly partisan battle over their right to vote. State lawmakers passed a wave of laws — including strict photo ID requirements, early voting cutbacks, and registration restrictions — making it harder for many citizens to vote. Following the 2016 election, President Donald Trump falsely claimed millions voted illegally, perpetuating the myth of fraud long used to justify restrictive legislation.The Brennan Center is the nation’s leading organization tracking the right to vote. With other allies and advocates, we have been instrumental in pushing back — in the media, legislatures, at the ballot box, and the courts.
• The Brennan Center continually tracks election changes in the states and provides national context and commentary on the legislative movement to restrict voting.
• Representing civil rights groups, Center attorneys have helped win court rulings to block harsh voter ID laws and voter registration restrictions, which could have made it harder for hundreds of thousands to cast ballots.
• We led an extensive public opinion research project on attitudes toward voting. Hundreds of organizations have used this cutting edge research to help win victories nationwide.
The national struggle over voting rights is the greatest in decades. The Brennan Center will continue to fight restrictive voting laws to safeguard our fundamental right to vote.