We Need Your Help to Bring the Voting Rights Act Fully Back to Life

Are you aware that one of the most effective tools for protecting voters has been missing for the last five years? A 2013 ruling from the highest court in our country, the U.S. Supreme Court, ripped out the heart of one of the most important of our nation’s laws, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If we have any hope of bringing a core part of this legislation back to life , we need young people like you to register to vote, turn out in local, state, and federal elections and hold your representatives accountable for policies they support that make voting more difficult for communities of color instead of that provide more resources to your communities.

For nearly five decades, the length of the lives of some of your parents, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act served as a critical checkpoint for potential discriminatory voting laws. How did it do this? It required areas of the country with the worst records of past and present voting discrimination like Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and even Alaska and parts of New York, among other places, to inform the federal government of proposed voting changes and to get approval before implementing them.  Reasons for the law were to prevent people from getting elected just by passing laws that discriminate and to place the burden on bad-acting jurisdictions to prove that voting changes would not harm communities of color. 

The process, known as preclearance, acted as a true safeguard for our democracy. Indeed, every year, the federal government scrutinized up to 40,000 voting laws in the jurisdictions where Section 5 applied and ensured that laws that made voting harder for Black, Native American, Latinx, Asian, and other constitutionally-protected racial minority groups would not go into effect.

Since Section 5 became inoperable in 2013, many states and local laws have gone into effect that previously would have been stopped in their tracks because of their unfair impacts on communities of color.

In Texas, for example, lawmakers put into place the most restrictive photo ID law to date, possibly disenfranchising more than 600,000 registered voters and more than a million voters who are eligible to vote and could register. They were able to do this by enacting a voter requirement that permitted people to use concealed handgun licenses yet outlawing students from using their IDs as was common practice during the 2008 and 2012 federal elections.  Students should be able to use their school IDs to vote.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), founded by one of the most celebrated civil rights lawyers in our country’s history, Thurgood Marshall, has successfully fought back against laws like Texas’s in the courts and in communities using the tools still at our disposal, but at great time and expense. More importantly, elections under the illegal practice still take place until they can be uprooted.

Our time and money could otherwise be used to push a more affirmative and less defensive agenda like pressing for laws that allow for preregistration for 16 and 17 year olds, early voting before traditional Tuesday Election Day and on college campuses, automatic voter registration, the re-enfranchisement of people with criminal histories, and much, much more. And your communities’ tax-base could be going into improving the education and healthcare and other systems in Texas (and elsewhere) instead of toward passing and defending laws that discriminate.

In addition to fighting against these discriminatory laws in court, another course of action is open to us: pushing Congress, with all its power, to introduce bills to restore the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. Young people must press their representatives to ensure that everyone has a say in our democratic process. We have no time to waste. Young people like you have the means to require that our country be fairer, inclusive, humane, and live up to its promises. Voting is one of the surest means to achieve that reality.

Leah Aden is a Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and heads LDF’s political participation work.

Opinions expressed are those of our guest bloggers.