Gutting the Voting Rights Act - What Does It Mean?

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The Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but what are the affects of the repeal to our community?

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was initially adopted in 1965, and readjusted in 1970, 1975 and 1982. The VRA echoed the language of the 15th amendment, which stated "The right of U.S. citizens 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.” Although, the 15th amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870, some legislators found loopholes within the amendment and passed state constitutional provisions that required literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses. Congress understood this and passed the VRA to enforce the 15th amendment.
The major segments of the VRA are Section 4 and Section 5.

Congress recognized racial discrimination was more prevalent in some areas of the country than others, and thus created Section 4, which provided a formula to identify these portions of the country and apply remedies where needed. The first would be a five-year suspension of the tests or devices, and then Section 5 would apply.

Section 5 called for the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to approve any laws that would make changes to voting in certain jurisdictions. These jurisdictions included the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina Texas, Virginia and the with the except of a few counties in the various states. Also, Section five covered counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota and municipalities in Michigan.

However, the decision of the Supreme Court last week eradicates Section 5 by declaring Section 4 unconstitutional. This is significant because the VRA has been most recently used to block Voter ID Laws.

At first, Voter ID Laws, laws that require some form of identification to receive a ballot seem to make sense. Photo identification is almost required for everything from going to the neighborhood pool to purchasing an item with a credit card, but the problem occurs when Identification becomes not easily obtainable to certain sections of the community.

For example in Texas, which put in place a Voter ID Law mere hours after the Supreme Court’s decision, many poor and minority eligible voters lack the resources to go to the DMV’s to obtain the proper identification. Of the 254 counties in Texas, only 81 have DMV’s, therefore making it almost impossible for those without transportation or money to obtain a license.

Texas is only one of six states to move forward with Voter ID laws since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. However, the future of the VRA is not dead. The Supreme Court although outlawed the formula to determine racial discrimination in Section 4, invited Congress to fill that hole with new legislation. So far Congressional Democrats are planning new legislation to replace Section 4, while Congressional Republicans have not offered a plan. However, the Congressional Democrats have not brought the legislation to the House or Senate Floor.


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Tatiana M. Brown is a native of Washington, D.C. who is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. She will graduate early in December 2014. Follow her @TatianaMBrown or check out her website, or contact her at

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