By Kira Zalan |
Our country has made immense progress in improving access to the vote over the past several decades, thanks in large part to the Voting Rights Act. Today, the law continues to protect voters from genuine and persistent voting discrimination based on race.
While the Voting Rights Act protects voting rights nationwide, at issue in the case is the heart of the law, Section 5, which protects voters in the jurisdictions with the worst history—and a contemporary record—of discriminating against voters based on their race.
Sadly, efforts to deny the right to vote based on race are not a thing of the past—they are a contemporary reality. In the 2012 election alone, efforts to discriminate against millions of minority voters were stopped only because they were in geographic areas protected by Section 5. For example, Section 5 stopped the implementation of discriminatory voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina; prevented the use of discriminatory congressional and state legislative district maps in Texas; and kept covered counties in Florida from shortening the early voting period that would have had a significant impact on minority voters.
Section 5 is also effective in protecting voting rights at the local level. The town of Calera, in Shelby County itself, is a perfect example. In Calera, the town's only black council member lost re-election after the town annexed new, largely white communities and redrew election districts in a way that prevented voters from choosing the candidate of their choice. Because of Section 5, the town was required to redraw the districts, and voters returned the community's candidate of choice to office.
The right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution, and few constitutional commands are as clear as the 15th Amendment, which ensures the right to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race and gives Congress the authority to protect this right. That is why the Supreme Court has already affirmed the Voting Rights Act's constitutionality four times.
The Voting Rights Act is necessary to ensure that our aspirations for a stronger democracy are a reality for all citizens. Ongoing evidence shows that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the most effective tool our nation has to stop discrimination against minorities at the ballot box. It stops real discrimination against real voters and we must ensure that Section 5 can continue to do this important work.
About Wade Henderson President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Wendy Weiser Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
David Gans Director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at Constitutional Accountability Center
Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
Ilya Shapiro Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute
Edward Blum Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute