The Research Design Associates Blog

(Voting Rights Act)

Remembering Selma

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. And this year marks the 27th anniversary of Research Design Associates’ (RDA) first voting rights case. RDA’s voting experts are working on an Alabama redistricting case now. A half-century after Bloody Sunday, the fight for the right to vote continues.

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Voting in 2014

In his January 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced two bipartisan efforts to modernize elections. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration presented Obama with recommendations designed to improve all voters’ experience in casting their ballots, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress introduced a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. In contrast to these efforts to expand voting access, laws and rules in pivotal swing states have been put in place that restrict registration and voting that go beyond the voter identification requirements that have caused intense partisan battles.

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U.S. Opens New Voting Rights Front

This country has made significant gains in voting rights since that time due in a large part to the landmark Voting Rights Act. In June, though, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the coverage formula of Section 5 of the Act ruling that Congress had not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out states for federal oversight. Section 5 of the Act required jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear,” that is, get federal approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ), for any new voting practices or procedures, and to show that they do not have a discriminatory effect. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, some Southern states began putting in effect voting changes that had been blocked by DOJ and federal courts such as strict voter ID laws and reduction of opportunities for early voting. DOJ had blocked these proposed changes on the grounds that they would disproportionately affect the elderly, and black and Hispanic voters. However, even though DOJ has been deprived of Section 5 by the Supreme Court, it is using the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act to subject states to preclearance.

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Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Part of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court’s long-awaited ruling on the voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder came down on June 25th. A divided court invalidated the coverage formula of Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 ruling that
Congress had not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out states for federal oversight. Importantly, though, the 5-4 decision did not strike down Section 5 itself, leaving it to Congress to devise a new coverage formula

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Supreme Court Considers the Fate of Section 5

Alabama is trying to end review of their election law changes by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder considering the fate of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which requires federal approval of election law changes in nine southern states and jurisdictions in seven other states with a history of racial discrimination. Lawyers for Shelby County argued that Section 5 is no longer constitutionally justified by current conditions in Alabama. Alabama’s recent history alone should be proof that Section 5 should not be struck down.

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