The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Voting Rights

The basis and foundation of our democratic form of government is the right to vote.  Voting is one of the most important tools Americans have to influence the policies the government adopts.  Unfortunately, many Americans are effectively denied their right to vote.

Voting Rights for Today

The Supreme Court's June 25, 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision is an enormous setback for votings rights in the U.S. We must respond to ensure that each American can enjoy his or her right to vote—free of discrimination. Get involved at www.VRAforToday.org.  

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Today in Civil Rights History: The Voting Rights Act becomes Law

August 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

In the early 1960s, television images of police attacking civil rights marchers shocked the nation and spurred the passage of sweeping civil rights legislation. On March 7, 1965, police in Alabama used tear gas and billy clubs to attack over 500 civil rights activists who marched from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the call for voting rights for African Americans.  The images of police brutality were broadcast worldwide.

One week later, President Johnson responded by calling on Congress to pass a voting rights bill.  When he signed the VRA five months later, he remarked that it was to be "one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom."

The VRA is considered the most successful civil rights law Congress has ever passed and remains as important now as it was four decades ago. Since 1965, Congress has voted four times to renew all three of its temporary provisions, most recently in 2006, when both the House and the Senate approved the measure overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner. Congress conducted over 20 hearings, heard from over 50 expert witnesses, and collected over 17,000 pages of testimony documenting the continued need for and constitutionality of the VRA.



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Bills to Restore Voting Rights to Ex-Felons Introduced in Congress

August 4, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Last week, both the Senate and the House introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, legislation that would restore the right to vote in federal elections to millions of Americans with felony convictions who have completed their prison sentences.


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Nationwide Standards Would Ensure Eligible Votes Are Counted Everywhere

July 28, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Elections are run differently in every state, sometimes differently from county to county, making it hard to ensure that every eligible vote is properly counted.

In recent elections, inconsistencies in the use of emergency paper ballots and provisional ballots have prevented the votes of many Americans from being counted.

During the 2008 presidential primary, for example, some polling officials in Pennsylvania failed to issue emergency paper ballots after voting machines broke down, and instead gave out provisional ballots or turned people away. Emergency paper ballots are issued when voting machines do not work and are to be counted as a regular vote, while provisional ballots are issued when a person's voter registration is in doubt and are only counted once registration is verified. 


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Election Assistance Commission Reports Rise in Voter Registration in 2008

July 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

EAC voter registration report cover

Voter registrations have increased substantially between the 2006 congressional mid-term election and the 2008 presidential election, according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).


The report, released last week, is the eighth in a series of regular reports the commission has submitted to Congress since passage of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993. The EAC is required to report every two years on the impact of the NVRA on voter registration.  This year's report revealed that the number of registered voters rose by 17.5 million from 2006 to 2008, reaching a total of 189 million.

The report also found a increase in same-day registration, in which voters are permitted to register when they arrive at the polls on election day, with 17 states adding 3.6 million new registrants on Election Day. Thirteen million inactive voters were removed from voter rolls from 2006 to 2008, for reasons including death, felony conviction, failure to vote in two consecutive federal elections, moving, or at the voter’s request.

The commission's recommendations for future improvements include creating a "coordinated data collection effort" between local and state election offices to better manage voter registration and removal of inactive voters, and the increasing the use of new technology to "ease the workload" on election officials.

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Today in Civil Rights History: The 26th Amendment Lowers Voting Age to 18

July 1, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Photo of a 1960s button,

"Yes 18" button from the late 1960s/early 1970s worn by many young people who protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Today marks the 38th anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in federal, state, and local elections.

Congress introduced the amendment in response to a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Oregon v. Mitchell, which held that Congress could not alter state or local voting arrangements through legislation. Congress had passed a law lowering the voting age earlier that year, in response to growing support for lowering the voting age among student and youth activists who opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Many American soldiers drafted to serve in Vietnam were between the ages of 18 and 21, a fact that helped to popularize the slogan, "old enough to fight, old enough to vote."

More than 50 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 1972 election, the first election after the amendment's ratification, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The turnout for this demographic has been steadily increasing since the 1996 election, with turnout in 2008 – 48.5 percent – nearly reaching 1972 levels.

Amendments to the Constitution are passed in both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority vote and approved by at least three-quarters of the states.

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Supreme Court Leaves Key Provision of Voting Rights Act Largely Intact

June 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

In an 8-1 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court left a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act intact.

"In today's near unanimous decision, the Supreme Court recognized the continuing relevance of the Voting Rights Act in its entirety and Congress' role in protecting the right to vote for all Americans," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.


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D.C. Voting Rights Bill Delayed

June 10, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Residents of the nation's capital will have to wait for a vote in Congress.  Yesterday, a vote on the DC House Voting Rights Act was delayed in the House of Representatives after a failed attempt to remove an amendment to repeal the District's gun control laws. 

The bill will increase the permanent House membership from 435 to 437 by giving one seat to the District of Columbia, and adding a fourth seat for Utah.  The gun amendment was added in February when the Senate passed the bill.  Many supporters of the bill in House would not vote for it with the gun amendment, which delayed the vote.

"We will do everything in our power to pass the DC Voting Rights Act in this Congress. But, it's obvious that we'll also need to take our battle on guns to the next level," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote

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New Report Finds that Modernizing Voter Registration Systems Would Cut Costs for Local Governments

May 7, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

photo of the U.S. PIRG report

U.S. PIRG, a national nonprofit that lobbies on consumer and public interest issues, released a report yesterday that shows that local voter registration systems are inefficient and expensive to maintain and that modernizing and streamlining antiquated systems would reduce costs for local governments.

U.S. PIRG surveyed 100 counties and found that more than $33 million of public money was spent on voter registration in 2008. Small counties spent an average of around $87,000, medium counties spent around $250,000, and large counties spent more than $1 million. Some of the largest counties spent as much as $3 million on voter registration.

The report also found that these costs do not include overtime pay or outreach election official conduct to encourage voter registration.

The report states: "Election officials must spend taxpayer dollars to deal with the errors and challenges of our paper-driven, inefficient registration system. If we modernized our system, election officials could instead use their budget for activities that promote our democracy, such as training poll-workers and election education, as well as on more effectively administering Election Day."

U.S. PIRG recommends that the federal government require states to provide automatic voter registration and same-day voting for people who may have missed registration deadlines.  It also recommends that the federal government provide funding support to states.

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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Voting Rights Act

April 29, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain states and localities with a history of voting discrimination to submit changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court before they can take effect.

The case involves a municipal utility district in Texas that says the preclearance provision is no longer necessary because the kind of discrimination that it was designed to combat no longer exists. The entire state of Texas is required to preclear voting changes.

A federal court rejected the municipality's suit last year, finding that Congress was well within its authority to reauthorize the preclearance requirement, which is regarded by many as the heart of the Voting Rights Act.


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Broken Voter Registration System Disproportionately Affects Low-Income Voters, the Incarcerated, and Minorities

March 30, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

According to a recent report on the 2008 election, four to five million people said they could not register to vote because of administrative problems, and another four million registered voters were unable to cast their ballot due to problems election officials claimed existed with their registration.

Many of the problems with voter registration in the U.S. disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people in prison, and low-income people.  According to Kristen Clarke of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, purge programs that often remove eligible voters from registration lists and mass rejection of registration forms for small, easily correctible errors are two of the biggest problems with the current system.

In addition, many local election officials are not familiar with how to implement federal voter laws like the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act, and laws regarding students, homeless voters, and incarcerated and ex-felon voters are often unclear and confusing.

Congress is currently holding hearings to determine what action it can take to ensure fairer elections.

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