Magazine article State Legislatures

Voting Rights Act Reaches Milestone

Magazine article State Legislatures

Voting Rights Act Reaches Milestone

Article excerpt

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark federal legislation that changed the way America votes. Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1870, granted the right regardless of race, it did not specifically prevent literacy tests, poll taxes, good-character tests or other mechanisms that were frequently used to exclude minorities from voting.

A cornerstone of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to defend the right of all eligible citizens to vote. The law prohibits discriminating against racial or language minorities, intimidating voters and committing registration fraud. It requires translations of election material into several languages when warranted and ensures that people with disabilities receive assistance with voting. It also allows federal observers into polling places and absentee voting in presidential elections.

The act's most notable provision, however, is in Section 5. It requires some states and counties with a history of discrimination to get approval, or "preclearance," from the federal government before changing their voting laws. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court found the formula used to determine which jurisdictions needed preclearance to be unconstitutional. Congress has yet to act on legislation to establish a new formula, so once-covered jurisdictions no longer need to seek preclearance.

The Voting Rights Act remains an important tool for ensuring the right to vote in all states, and its place in American history is undeniable. …

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