Voting Rights Act

“I have said this before, and I will say it again – the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

— John Lewis, 2019

Despite the fact that African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans are guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was passed just after the Civil War in 1870, states and local municipalities continued to use tactics such as poll taxes, literacy tests and outright intimidation to stop people from casting free and unfettered ballots.

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – in fact, just five days after Martin Luther King, Jr. led the march on Selma, AL – President Lyndon Johnson announced his intention to pass a federal Voting Rights Act to ensure that no federal, state or local government may in any way impede people from registering to vote or voting because of their race or ethnicity. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Most provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and specifically the portions that guarantee that no one may be denied the right to vote because of his or her race or color, are permanent, but some enforcement-related provisions have required reauthorization over the years.

Originally, in 1965, legislators hoped that within five years the problems would be resolved and there would be no further need for these enforcement-related provisions: however, it proved necessary to extend these in 1970, and again in 1975 and 1982. They were set to expire in August 2007, but were extended for another 25 years with the July 2007 reauthorization vote.

There were 3 enforcement-related provisions of the Voting Rights Act that would have expired in August 2007 unless reauthorized. The first is Section 5, which requires certain jurisdictions to obtain approval or “preclearance” from the US Department of Justice or the US District Court in D.C. before they can make any changes to voting practices or procedures. Federal approval will be given only after the jurisdiction proves that the proposed change does not, have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.

Secondly is Section 203, which requires certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual language assistance to voters in communities where there is a concentration of citizens who are limited English proficient. This provision was added to the Voting Rights Act in 1975.

The third provisions are those in Sections 6-9 which authorize the federal government to send federal election examiners and observers to certain jurisdictions covered by Section 5 where there is evidence of attempts to intimidate minority voters at the polls.

The hearings held in 2005 and 2006 in the House and Senate found a new generation of tactics, including at-large elections, annexations, last minute poll place changes and redistricting which have had a discriminatory impact on voters, especially racial and ethnic minority American voters. Thus H.R. 9 was introduced with strong bipartisan support in the House and the Senate to reauthorize the expiring portions of the VRA and allow the federal government to address these new challenges.

Today’s Voting Rights Act Anniversary Events

Thursday – August 6, 2020

4:00pm-5:00pm EST

Thursday – August 6, 2020

7:30pm-8:30pm EST


Leading up to what is sure to be an unprecedented election administered during the uncertainty of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to protect access to voting for some of our most underrepresented communities. It is this reality that prompted NAACP in partnership with HRC, UnidosUS, and Latino Victory Fund to commission HIT Strategies to conduct the Vote By Mail Messaging Research Project.

This research set out to identify barriers that voters of color have to voting by mail, and the persuasive messages to overcome those barriers. To achieve these objectives HIT Strategies conducted four focus groups amongst voters of color in battleground states and a national survey of 1600 non-white voters (including oversamples of AAPI, Af-Am, Latinx, and LGBTQ voters).

The results of this robust research reveal very real and perceived barriers to voting by mail and what organizations that are committed to empowering voters of color must say and do to encourage higher confidence and participation in voting by mail.

 To preview the research please click here.