The Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a significant piece of legislation that guarantees the right to vote to African American citizens. This legislative act prevented states (mainly southern) from enforcing discriminatory tactics aimed at preventing African Americans fair opportunities to participate in the voting process. As a result of the Act, the national government intervened in areas where African Americans were denied the right to vote.

Specifically, Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are of particular importance. Section 2 prohibits minority vote dilution which is basically tactics, legislation, situations, etc. that weaken the voting strength of minorities. Section 2 prevents municipalities from enacting practices designed to give minorities an unfair chance to elect candidates of their choice and› is enforceable nationwide

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain areas of the country to obtain žpreclearanceÓ from the US Attorney General or the US District Court for the District of Columbia for any changes with reference to voting. These areas are known as žcovered jurisdictions.Ó Thus, any žcovered jurisdictionÓ must be given approval before any new electoral practices can be administered. This is necessary due to the purpose or intent of some areas to dilute, or weaken the strength of minority voters by changing electoral practices that give minorities an unfair chance to elect someone of choice. 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 žretrogression,Ó 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 Eskimo 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.