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Three Years after Shelby County v. Holder Ruling, Access to the Ballot in Jeopardy for Voters of Color

WASHINGTON – This week, civil rights advocates across the United States are renewing calls to restore the full protections of the nation’s most successful piece of civil rights legislation – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Marking three years since the Supreme Court gutted essential provisions of the VRA, the national racial justice organization, Advancement Project, has joined in efforts to urge Congress to take decisive action to protect the fundamental right to vote.

“In the midst of Congress’ inaction to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, the rights of voters of color have hung in the balance,” said Advancement Project Executive Director Judith Browne Dianis. “From Arizona to Florida, North Carolina to Missouri, we have seen the devastating effects of a weakened VRA. Conservative state legislatures have wasted no time in passing voter suppression laws – all while our nation’s Congress has wasted too much time in letting the right to vote come under siege.”

On June 25, 2013 the Supreme Court gutted In the 5-4 ruling on Shelby County v. Holder, the Court took direct aim at Section 4 of the VRA – a formula which determined which states had histories of suppression so troublesome that they should be required to submit any changes to voting laws to the federal government for review. The majority ruled that the “preclearance” formula was outdated, and tasked Congress with writing a new set of rules. Now, three years later, Congress has failed to do so.

Since the Shelby County ruling, 17 states have passed laws that impose barriers on the right to vote – from limitations on when and where voters can register and vote, to burdensome photo ID requirements. Many jurisdictions have also made shifts in election administration, including closing and relocating polling sites – often in communities of color.

“This year marks the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the VRA,” said Advancement Project General Counsel and Managing Director Edward A. Hailes, Jr. “Voters in this year’s primary elections faced lines lasting hours or mazes of confusion following polling site closures. In an election already marked by rising tensions and racialized rhetoric, voters of color are confronting unique chaos caused by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling as they try to make their voices heard in our democracy. It is time that Congress fix the mess caused from Shelby by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

Presented in 2015, the Voting Rights Advancement Act would rectify many of the issues caused by the Shelby ruling by restoring preclearance coverage of states with a record of voter suppression. Unlike other drafted bills, the Voting Rights Advancement Act would not include a carve-out for voter ID requirements that impose disparate burdens on voters of color. Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens do not have a current government-issued photo ID and 16 percent of Latino voting-age citizens lack this narrow form of identification. In contrast, only eight percent of white voting-age citizens lack current government-issued photo ID.

“The right to vote is sacred,” Dianis said. “Our elected leaders should fight to protect the right to vote – not undermine it. They should work to expand access to the ballot box, in the spirit of a representative, inclusive and just democracy. They should honor those who marched, bled and died to ensure that all Americans have a voice in our democracy – not disparage their sacrifices by denying the equal franchise. They should, without delay, restore the Voting Rights Act.”

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Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.

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