Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Voting rights are under attack — they must be protected and strengthened

A recent federal appeals court decision highlights the fragility of the Voting Rights Act.

1600px-Vote_Here_-_Election_Polling_Place_(50565230221).jpg

A 'Vote Here' sign is pictured on Nov. 3, 2020.

On Monday, a federal appeals court dealt a grievous blow to the Voting Rights Act, which has protected the voting rights of minorities since it was passed in 1965.

The VRA has faced many challenges through the years and was considerably weakened in 2013. The Shelby County v. Holder decision ended the preclearance provision in Section 5 of the VRA — which required states to receive approval for new voting laws from the Department of Justice if they had a history of discriminatory voting practices. Preclearance was first upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966 and has been called the “heart” of the VRA.

Following Shelby County, Section 2 of the VRA — which prohibits localities from imposing voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race — became central to voting rights lawsuits. Section 2 was then challenged in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee in 2021. The decision left Section 2 intact but narrowed its usefulness in combating discriminatory voting practices.

The federal appeals court decision last week, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would eviscerate Section 2 entirely. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that only the federal government, as opposed to private citizens, can bring a lawsuit under Section 2 of the VRA. This decision flies in the face of precedent, as only 15 of the 182 successful Section 2 cases were brought by the U.S. attorney general.

It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will uphold this injudicious decision. In June, the conservative court voted to strike down Alabama’s congressional voting map, ruling that it diluted Black voters’ power. This surprising decision, on a case brought by civil rights groups under Section 2, indicates that the Supreme Court will likely overturn the federal appeals court ruling. However, this ruling is far from the only challenge facing voting rights in the U.S. Just this year, 14 states have passed new restrictive voting laws.  

Two bills that nearly passed in 2022 aim to uphold and further voting rights. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 14), which was introduced in the House of Representatives in September, aims to shore up the provisions of the VRA that have been gutted. Its key provisions include reestablishing preclearance, codifying provisions to strengthen the use of Section 2 and preventing retrogression — which allows voters to sue localities for passing voting laws that are more discriminatory than the previous legislation. In addition, the Freedom to Vote Act, which has also been introduced, aims to expand voting rights beyond the VRA including measures to expand ballot access, counter election denial tactics and modernize our voter registration systems.

It is imperative that we defend the voting rights of all citizens — but what can we do as individuals? While these acts are unlikely to pass this year, we must make it clear to our elected officials that voting rights are top of mind. A 2022 poll conducted by Politico and Morning Consult found that 60% of registered voters think that expanding voter access should be the top priority for Congress to pass. American voters widely support voting rights, and we must make that clear to our elected officials.

Call or email your representatives to let them know you support H.R. 14 and want voting rights to be protected for all Americans. Next November, vote for candidates who prioritize voting rights — and a president who will appoint judges who understand the importance of every citizen having an equal voice in our representative government. Voting rights are an essential component of the U.S. meeting its promises of liberty and equality. It is vital that we protect and expand them.