In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This act was created to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that ensured that minorities, primarily African Americans, would be unable to exercise their right to vote which was given to them through the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment states:
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.Amendment XV
This amendment, which was ratified in 1870, prevented states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Nevertheless, state legislators sought loopholes and used various discriminatory practices to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. Some examples of these practices are literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses (laws that made men eligible to vote if their ‘grandfather’ had been able to vote before African-Americans were allowed to) or outright lying. Black people attempting to vote would often be met with an election official telling them that they had gotten the wrong day/location/time or that they would need to take a literacy test. Due to oppression and insufficient schooling, black people had a much higher rate of illiteracy compared to white people. So, they were often forced to take literacy tests and if they failed, would be sent away. The Voting Rights Act banned the use of literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and “good character tests.” After the Act had been passed, voter turnout amongst black people significantly jumped. In Mississippi alone, it had jumped from a mere 6% in 1964 to 59% in 1969.
In June 2013, the supreme court altered the section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in a case called Shelby county v. Holder. In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided that the landmark law that required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get changes cleared by the federal government before they went into effect would be removed. This removal would mean that discriminatory voting policies could not be blocked before they harmed voters. Immediately after the decision, Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina, who were both previously covered by the law, moved to enact new voter ID laws and other restrictions meant to spur voter suppression. These types of discriminatory practices fly under the radar of the federal court because they are not able hear about the local changes, let alone stop them.
Here are some ways that voter suppression has surged since this ruling:
- Polling Place Closures
- Between 2012 and 2018, there were 1,688 polling place closures in states that were covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In the video I embedded below, the New York Times team details the discriminatory practices that Georgia uses to suppress their black voters. In the video, in a predominately black area, a man had to wait 7 hours, 45 minutes, and 13 seconds just to vote. Comparatively, a polling place in a predominately white, suburban area had to wait 20 minutes to vote.
- Voter ID Laws
- In every state that were restricted before, Black and Latinx voters were more likely not to have a government issued photo ID, which is why Republicans are pushing for stricter voter ID laws.
- Proof of Citizenship