Protecting Voting Rights Again

February 16, 2014

By Tiffney Love

In August 2013, I had the honor of attending the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. As soon as I arrived at the March, organizers eagerly handed me a bright yellow sign with large blue text. The sign simply read, ‘Protect Voting Rights.’ The anniversary of the March came right on the heels of a 5-4 Ruling by the Supreme Court in Shelby Cnty., Ala. v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013), which struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Numerous elderly March participants were eager to tell me of their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the great things they helped to accomplish. These testimonies, along with the recent Shelby County ruling, encouraged me to assess what the decision means for minority voters in future elections.

1963 March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the greatest legislative achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. For states with a history of voting discrimination, Section 4 of the act permitted changes to voting laws only after they were cleared by the Justice Department or a Federal Court in Washington.  For example, South Carolina and Texas had to obtain preclearance on voter identification laws before they could implement the laws in their elections. Many southern states required preclearance, however, the requirement was not limited to the south.

A few of the states used the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County, as a chance to instantly implement laws bringing discriminatory effects to the voting process for most minorities. For instance, in 2011 South Carolina was blocked from passing a voter identification law by the Justice Department, as the law did not include an exemption for residents who could not obtain an identification card to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Also in 2011, Texas was in the process of seeking approval for Voter Identification Laws. Within hours of the Shelby County decision being reached, the laws, as well as redistricting maps, went into effect.

Although not all are in force currently, “there are a total of thirty-four states whom have passed voter identification laws”.[1] These laws include providing some form of government issued identification such as: a valid driver’s license, military identification, a state identification card, United States passport, student identification, or a state registration card with a photo.

Although voter identification laws and redistricting may not seem to be as facially discriminatory as poll taxes, literacy tests, or contingent upon whether an individual’s grandfather was allowed to vote, these subtle and discrete methods will likely have the same impact in terms of voter disparity. For instance, many southern states have large minority populations and are free to indulge in the redrawing district lines, which in turn will dilute the minority vote. For places such as Texas this not only interferes with African American’s voting power but also the Hispanic community’s. Next, Voter Identification laws will place an undue burden on the poor and women. The poor will have to pay to obtain proper identification that complies with the law and women who are married or have name changes will have to go through great lengths to ensure their name is the same on all identification documents.

In my opinion, Justice Ginsberg’s dissent said it best: “[T]he court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it history repeats itself. .”[2] Therefore, minority voters are yet again susceptible to discrimination in voting. Unfortunately, the men and women who participated in the initial fight for the Voting Rights Act were at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington fighting against the same issue: inequality.


[1] National Conference of State Legislatures. “Voter Identification Requirements.” Web. October 17, 2013 http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx

[2]  Shelby Cnty., Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

Justice Ginsberg’s dissent may be accessed here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf


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