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P L A N  O F  A C T I O N


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

— The 15th Amendment

Mayday!!  Mayday!!

American voting rights are under attack. Republican-led state legislators are not only making it harder to vote, they are also passing laws that give them – not election officials – the power to overturn election results.

Analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, found that state legislators had introduced 389 bills across 48 states making it harder to vote. Already, 61 of these bills are moving through the legislative process and 31 have passed at least one chamber.


The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.  The VRA was passed to put an end to discriminatory election practices and to protect every American’s constitutional right to vote.  The Voting Rights Act put a stop to unfair election practices that were designed to disenfranchise voters and was supposed to ensure that new restrictive measures would be prevented.

​When Congress passed the VRA, it acknowledged that racial discrimination in regard to elections was more common in certain areas of the country than others.  Therefore, Section 4(a) of the VRA established a formula to identify the problem areas and to define the appropriate remedies.  The formula included the following:

Did the state/county use a “test or device” that could potentially prohibit an American from registering and/or voting (i.e., a literacy test or morality test)? 

Did less than 50 percent of voting-aged citizens register to vote on November 1, 1964, or did less than 50 percent of voting-aged citizens vote in the 1964 presidential election?

This formula identified seven “covered jurisdictions”:  Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia.  Plus, certain counties in four additional states:  Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina.  In addition to several potential remedies, these “covered jurisdictions” were subject to something called “pre-clearance,” a process whereby new election laws had to be reviewed by the Justice Department before they even went into effect.


​Without question, the provisions in the Voting Rights Act were extremely effective. African American voter turnout increased from 7 percent to 67 percent within just five years — in Mississippi alone.


Time magazine reported that:

The new measure’s reaffirmation of the right to vote regardless of ‘race or color’ applied to all states, and by 1980 the percentage of the adult Black population on the voter rolls in the South had already surpassed that in the rest of the country.  Although 3 million more White than Black voters were added to southern rolls in the 1960s, the Voting Rights Act’s ‘special coverage’ states, which showed a combined total of 72 Black elected officials in 1965, boasted nearly 1,000 a decade later.  By the mid-1980s there were more Black people in public office across the South than in the rest of the nation combined.  Although the share of public officeholders still fell well short of the Black share of the population, by 2001 the gap outside the South was nearly 4 times greater than within it.

Even today, the U.S. Department of Justice’s website still says: “Soon after passage of the Voting Rights Act, federal examiners were conducting voter registration, and Black voter registration began a sharp increase.  The cumulative effect of the Supreme Court’s decisions, Congress’ enactment of voting rights legislation, and the ongoing efforts of concerned private citizens and the Department of Justice, has been to restore the right to vote guaranteed by the 14th and 15th Amendments.  The Voting Rights Act itself has been called the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.”


In 1970, Congress granted a five-year renewal for special provisions in the legislation that were set to expire.  In 1975, these provisions were extended for an additional seven years.  In fact, they were even broadened to include other “language minority groups” (defined as people who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives or of Spanish heritage).  In 1982, Congress extended the provisions for an additional 25 years, and in 2006 they were extended for yet another 25 years.


​However, the party came to an end in 2013 when, in the court case Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, saying “the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs” and that “a departure from the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty requires a showing that a statute’s disparate geographic coverage is sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” 

The Supreme Court also ditched the pre-clearance requirement.  So, states were now allowed to pass new voting restrictions that would have previously been evaluated under the Voting Rights Act

Now, the only recourse American citizens have is to fight these unfair practices — case by case — in court after they have already been implemented.  The U.S. Supreme Court justified this by saying: “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”  

The U.S. Supreme Court has since been proven very, very wrong.  The destruction started immediately.

In the years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities.  The trend continues: This year alone, 10 counties with large black populations in Georgia closed polling spots after a white elections consultant recommended they do so to save money.

-- The Pew Charitable Trusts

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