According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the successes of the Voting Rights Act are under threat in various states, including North Carolina, after a Supreme Court case weakened several significant provisions within the law.
The purpose of the 1965 law was to ensure that minorities could vote without having to overcome local and state level legislation, as well as actions that were intended to inhibit their ability to vote.
The Voting Rights Act has been widely celebrated, and remains to this day one of the most effective pieces of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the history of the United States. The law was enacted in 1965 after gaining over 70 votes in the Senate by members of both parties, and being approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 2013, there was a controversial Supreme Court case, “Shelby County v. Holder,” which precluded certain parts of it.
The precluded parts were Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to seek out and obtain federal preclearance for any changes to their voting laws and practices, as well as section 4(b), which contained the formula used to determine which states and counties needed to obtain federal preclearance.
Without the preclearance requirements, some state and local governments have begun implementing the sort of measures which the Voting Rights Act was enacted to defeat such as cutting early voting, purging voter rolls, strict voter ID laws and more. In the state of North Carolina, there is a proposed constitutional amendment that, if included in the ballot, could enshrine a voter ID requirement into the state constitution.
In North Carolina, strict measures to restrict voting are gutting voter access to the polls, and thus the ability of voters to choose their elected officials. This comes after a public briefing in Raleigh earlier this year, wherein attendees witnessed testimony from 23 current and former government officials, legal experts, academics, civil society representatives and members of the public.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights released a fairly extensive 402 page report which can be found on their website, and explores the sort of discriminatory policies that have taken effect in North Carolina, as well as the state’s history when it comes to these sorts of issues. Some of the recommendations the report makes include amending and strengthening the Voting Rights Act, protecting voters who are limited in their English language proficiency, protecting voters with disabilities and more.
In North Carolina, unconstitutional gerrymandering and other measures to weaken access to the polls and the ability of voters to enact change are not new. This is a moment when government officials and legal experts are trying to fully map out how harmful the policies the North Carolina state legislature are in relation to the abilities of the voters to go to the polls and cast ballots.