About the Voting Rights ActThe Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a significant piece of legislation that guarantees the right to vote for racial, ethnic and language minority citizens. This law prevents states from engaging in discriminatory acts aimed at preventing minorities from participating in the voting process.
Specifically, Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are of particular importance. Section 2 prohibits minority vote dilution, which addresses a variety of tactics, legislation, and situations that weaken the voting strength of minorities. Section 2 prevents municipalities from enacting practices designed to disenfranchise minorities by limiting opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and is enforceable nationwide.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain “covered jurisdictions” to obtain “preclearance” from the US Department of Justice or the US District Court for the District of Columbia for any changes to election or voting policy. Section 5 is necessary due to the purpose or intent of some areas to dilute the strength of minority voters by changing electoral practices. For example, a change from district/ward elections to an at-large election could be the intent of the governing body to make it difficult for minorities to get elected. This also includes, but is not limited to: a change to or from a proportional electoral system, change in the number of candidates to be elected, change in redistricting plan, etc. Additionally, Section 5 considers the effect of a proposed change. Will the proposed change lead to “retrogression,” a worsening of the position of minority voters? For instance, a proposed plan may effectively decrease the number of minority elected officials as well as decrease the voting strength of the minority group. All areas in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota are subject to Section 5 preclearance.
In 1975, the Act was amended to include rights for language minorities. These amendments mandated bilingual ballots and oral assistance to those who spoke Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Native American languages, and Inuit languages. In 1982 the Act was also amended to clear statutory language surrounding the purpose and intent prong of Section 2. The amendment provides that proof of discriminatory purpose or intent was not required under a Section 2 claim.
In 2009, the Supreme Court in NAMUDNO v. Holder upheld the VRA but allowed for jurisdictions to bail out of the requirements established in Section 5, which weakened the act. The court also signaled that if Congress did not take action to change the VRA, it could in the future be struck down as unconstitutional.