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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 in the States

Alabama

Voting Rights in Alabama, 1982-2006 (pdf)
For decades, Alabama has been at the center of the battle for voting rights equality. Several of the pre-1965 voting cases brought by the Department of Justice and private parties were in Alabama. The events of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 served as a catalyst for the introduction and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Between passage of the Act in 1965 and the last major reauthorization of the Act in 1982, the temporary provisions of the Act that apply to Alabama, the Section 5 preclearance provisions and the federal observer provisions, were employed repeatedly to prevent voting discrimination.

Alaska

Voting Rights in Alaska, 1982-2006 (pdf)
The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) is arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation ever adopted by Congress. The state of Alaska, which has the single largest indigenous population in the United States, is covered by section 5 (the preclearance provision) and sections 4(f)4 and 203 (the language assistance provisions) of the VRA. Yet, little is known about the impact of the VRA in Alaska over the past 40 years, including whether state voting practices or procedures discriminate against minority voters, or how well the state is complying with the minority language assistance provisions. This report is a beginning point to a better understanding of the status of the VRA in Alaska. Its primary focus is the study, documentation, and analysis of the experiences of Alaska Native voters through the lens of the VRA.

Arizona

Voting Rights in Arizona, 1982-2006 (pdf)
Since 1965, the temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act have applied to portions of Arizona. During that time, Arizona has made great progress toward providing Latino and American Indian voting-age citizens with equal access to the political process. Arizona has discontinued the use of its English-only literacy test. Latino and American Indian voting-age citizens are registering and turning out in record numbers and are increasingly making a difference in state and local elections. Nevertheless, Arizona's record since 1982, when the temporary provisions were last reauthorized, shows that the state still has a long way to go.

California

Voting Rights in California, 1982-2006 (pdf)
In California, this voting discrimination often occurs within the context of racially polarized voting. When a Section 5-covered jurisdiction seeks to implement a voting change and elections are characterized by racially polarized voting, the potential for a discriminatory impact on minority voting strength is enhanced. Accordingly the U.S. Attorney General has objected to the implementation of changes in voting practices and procedures ranging from redistricting plans, a conversion from election districts to an at-large method of election, and annexations. Without Section 5 coverage, these voting changes in California would have been implemented, resulting in a discriminatory effect on minority voting strength.

Florida

Voting Rights in Florida, 1982-2006 (pdf)
The essential role of the Voting Rights Act in protecting the voting rights of Florida's racial and language minorities cannot be overemphasized. Since 1982 the protections of the Act have been exceedingly important in guaranteeing Florida's minority voters access to the ballot box. Review of Florida's history under the Voting Rights Act since 1982 reveals that the special protections afforded race and language minorities under Sections 5, 4(f)(4) and 203 of the Act are needed now more than ever.

Georgia

Voting Rights in Georgia, 1982-2006 (pdf)
Georgia's history since 1982 shows that the state has not moved beyond the need for Section 5 preclearance and the other temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Unquestionably, sustained efforts to increase black voter registration in the state have led to great progress. As of February 1, 2006, data reported by the Georgia Secretary of State showed that African Americans made up 27 percent of the state's total of 4,236,855 active registered voters. In most counties, the rate of black registration is comparable to that of whites. The 1982 Amendments to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prompted a wave of litigation that eliminated at-large election systems in cities, counties and school district across the state. Furthermore, the dominance of the Democratic Party in the state as of 1982 has given way with the increasing success of the Republican Party, and this realignment appears to have created new opportunities for black candidates to capture Democratic Party nominations and enjoy occasional success in statewide elections.

Louisiana

Voting Rights in Louisiana, 1982-2006 (pdf)
The view from Louisiana provides important evidence about the effectiveness and ongoing necessity of VRA protections. Forty years after the passage of the VRA, Louisiana has made demonstrable progress toward the goal of equality in voting but fallen short of accomplishing it. Any careful study of the experience of minority voters in Louisiana reveals that much of the progress that has been achieved in the state is a direct result of the protections of the VRA generally, and the Section 5 preclearance provision in particular. As this report illustrates, the role of the VRA both as a remedy for, and as a deterrent to, voting discrimination is unmistakable. The record of enhanced African-American voter registration, participation and minority office-holding, of Section 5 objections to retrogressive voting changes, deterrence of others, and of Section 2 litigation resulting in judgments or settlements, collectively paints a picture of a civil rights act that has been effective and whose protections remain vital.

Mississippi

Voting Rights in Mississippi, 1965-2006 (pdf)
Mississippi is the poorest state in the union. Its population is 36 percent black, the highest of any of the 50 states. Resistance to the civil rights movement was as bitter and violent there as anywhere. State and local officials frequently erected obstacles to prevent black people from voting, and those obstacles were a centerpiece of the evidence presented to Congress to support passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After the Act was passed, Mississippi's government worked hard to undermine it. In its 1966 session, the state legislature changed a number of the voting laws to limit the influence of the newly enfranchised black voters, and Mississippi officials refused to submit those changes for preclearance as required by Section 5 of the Act. Black citizens filed a court challenge to several of those provisions, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court's watershed 1969 decision in Allen v. State Board of Elections, holding that the state could not implement the provisions unless they were approved under Section 5.

New York

Voting Rights in New York, 1982-2006 (pdf)
At the time of the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act and the continuation of Section 5 coverage to three counties in New York City, the city was at a major crossroads regarding faithful compliance with the mandates of the Act. Just one year earlier in the largest city in the United States, the largest municipal election apparatus in the country was brought to a screeching halt in September 1981 when the federal courts enjoined the mayoral primaries - two days before Election Day - because the city failed to obtain preclearance of new (and discriminatory) city council lines and election district changes. The cost of closing down the election was enormous and a lesson was painfully learned: minority voters knew how to get back to court, the courts would not stand by idly in the face of obvious Section 5 noncompliance, and business-as-usual politics would no longer be the same. Weeks later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) would not only officially deny preclearance to the city council plan but would find that its egregious disregard of the burgeoning African-American and Latino voting strength in the city had a discriminatory purpose and a discriminatory effect.

North Carolina

Voting Rights in North Carolina, 1982-2006 (pdf)
North Carolina's experience since the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 1982 has been a mixed one of slow progress, setbacks and new challenges. Only 40 of the state's 100 counties are covered by Section 5 of the Act, resulting in greater protections for some areas of the state. While many of the gains in minority representation at all levels have come about as the result of litigation under Section 2 of the Act, Section 5 has arguably had the greatest impact in the state because numerous objections have prevented the implementation of election changes that would have made it harder for black voters to participate in elections. Indeed, the ability of Section 5 preclearance to protect and thereby reinforce Section 2 gains has been an important part of the minority voting rights story in North Carolina.

South Carolina

Voting Rights in South Carolina, 1982-2006 (pdf)
Prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act, South Carolina, a state whose population is 30 percent African-American, had elected no black official in the Twentieth Century. South Carolina's history of discrimination resulted in the entire state being covered by the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Act. Vigorous enforcement of Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has expanded and then protected the ability of South Carolina African-Americans to participate fully in the voting process and to elect candidates of their choice. The transition of single-member districts for both houses of the General Assembly, county councils, municipal governing bodies, and school boards has greatly expanded black representation.

South Dakota

Voting Rights in South Dakota, 1982-2006 (pdf)
In the past 40 years, South Dakota has become a battleground for American Indian voting rights. Since 1966, of the sixty-six lawsuits filed nationwide in which voting rights of Indians were at issue, seventeen have been filed in South Dakota. In 1977, then-South Dakota Attorney General William Janklow expressed his outrage over the extension of Section 5 (the preclearance requirement) and Sections 4(f)(4) and 203 (the minority language assistance provision) of the Voting Rights Act ("VRA") to his state on behalf of American Indians. He derided Section 5 as a "facial absurdity" and, in a formal legal opinion, he advised the Secretary of State to ignore the preclearance requirement, stating: "I see no need to proceed with undue speed to subject our State's laws to a 'one-man veto' by the United States Attorney General." This official practice of ignoring the preclearance requirement of the VRA continued virtually unabated for the next twenty-five years.

Texas

Voting Rights in Texas, 1982-2006 (pdf)
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has been indispensable to guaranteeing minority voters access to the ballot in Texas. Texas has experienced a long history of voting discrimination against its Latino and African-American citizens dating back to 1845. The enactment of the VRA in 1965 began a process of integrating Latinos, African Americans, and more recently, Asian Americans, into the political structures of Texas. Yet, a review of the minority voting experience in Texas since the 1982 VRA reauthorizations indicates that this process remains incomplete. Infringements on minority voting rights persist and noncompliance with the VRA continues at the state and local level. The VRA has proven to be an essential tool for enhancing minority inclusion in Texas.

Virginia

Voting Rights in Virginia, 1982-2006 (pdf)
Virginia was one of the six original states covered entirely by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [hereinafter VRA] as a result of its long history of intentional discrimination against African Americans. The VRA has succeeded in removing some of the direct and indirect barriers to voting by African Americans and other racial minorities. A period of forty years of VRA protection, however, has been insufficient to completely erase the effects and continued practice of voting discrimination. To the extent that there has been progress, it has come at the behest of the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the federal courts, sometimes after extensive litigation. For example, as detailed below, there have been numerous Section 5 objections in every decade since the last reauthorization of the VRA in 1982 and in a wide range of areas, including: redistricting, voting procedures, election schedules, and the structure of elected bodies. In addition to the Section 5 objections, there have been multiple successful Section 2 vote dilution challenges, consent decrees and even constitutional challenges to discriminatory voting practices in Virginia.

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