Background on the 2006 Voting Rights Act Reauthorization
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Enacted in 1965, the VRA is among the nation’s most effective civil rights legislation. Since its enactment, the VRA has guaranteed millions of minority voters the equal opportunity to participate in elections and to have their voices heard, by removing barriers to voting for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans. The Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting and establishes the right to bilingual election materials. These measures have created tremendous opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities to elect candidates of their choice to thousands of federal, state, and local offices in all parts of the country.
However, while considerable progress has been made since 1965, violations of the Act are still a persistent feature of the American political landscape. Sadly, the nation has yet to achieve the constitutional goal of equality of political opportunity.
Congress will soon begin to review certain sections of the VRA in order to “reauthorize” certain provisions of the bill. While the permanent provisions of the VRA do not require legislative reauthorization, the special provisions, which have a remedial purpose and limited duration, will expire at the end of the period of years specified by Congress when enacted or renewed.
The special provisions allow for significant federal oversight of state and local voting functions for jurisdictions deemed to have the worst and most persistent histories of voting discrimination against their minority populations. This heightened oversight is intended to identify and prevent proposed voting changes that worsen the position of minority voters, or, just as significantly, to deter covered jurisdictions from seeking to proposing such voting changes from the outset.
Sections 4 and 5: Require jurisdictions with histories of voter exclusion and disenfranchisement to prove to federal authorities that any proposed changes to voting laws or procedures will not negatively impact minority voters.
Sections 203 and 4(f)(4): Require three states – California, Texas, and New Mexico – along with many counties and townships throughout the country to provide bilingual election procedures for significant language minority populations.
Sections 6 - 9: Allow for the deployment of poll observers and federal experts to jurisdictions with histories of voter exclusion. Enforcement of the Voting Rights Act continues to be vital to achieving fair and effective representation for all Americans.