Vital Signs

Forever 1965

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).  Under the formula, states or their political subdivisions are “covered jurisdictions” if they maintained in the 1960’s and early 70’s tests or devices (e.g., a literacy test or moral character requirement) as a prerequisite for voting and had low levels of voter registration or turnout.  If a state is a covered jurisdiction, no change in voting procedures can take place unless it is “precleared” by the attorney general of the United States or a panel of three federal judges.  Under the preclearance provisions, a covered jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the change in voting procedures would have neither the purpose nor the effect of abridging the right to vote on account of color.

In 2006, Congress, with the support of President George W. Bush, reauthorized the VRA for an additional 25 years, leaving the coverage formula in place.  They also made it harder for covered jurisdictions to gain preclearance by prohibiting voting changes that would, in the eyes of the federal government, diminish the ability of blacks and Hispanics “to elect their preferred candidates of choice.”

As of June, the following were covered jurisdictions under the VRA: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi,...

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