Voting Rights Matter

The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.
— U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Reynolds v. Sims (1964)

In 1965 Congress passed The Voting Rights Act, one of the most effective civil rights laws ever enacted. The Act immediately outlawed the worst Jim Crow laws in the South, such as literacy tests and other devices that kept black citizens out of the voting booth. Then gradually, through court decisions and Congressional amendments, more subtle schemes to disenfranchise minorities fell by the wayside. In Mississippi, for example, black registration rose from 6.7 percent in 1964 to 70.8 percent in 1986. Today, nearly 5,000 African Americans hold elective office across the South.

But in 1993, the tide shifted ominously when the Supreme Court delivered its decision in Shaw v. Reno and struck down a majority minority’s voting district in North Carolina as unconstitutional. Since Shaw, the Court has continued to chip away at voting rights.

With a massive coalition effort, the American Civil Liberties Union and scores of community partners beat back a serious challenge to the act in 2006, leading to the Senate’s swift reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in July 2006. The legislation passed unanimously without any damaging or weakening amendments on a vote of 98 to 0. The Act was due to expire in 2007.

Although significant progress has been made, sadly, equal opportunity in voting still does not exist in many parts of the country. It is our hope that the reauthorization of this landmark law will build on our progress and move us one step closer to completely eliminating discrimination in voting.

For more information about the ACLU’s fight for Voting Rights Act reauthorization go to our national website on voting rights.