Nicholas Stephanopoulos on the Voting Rights Act and Minority Voters
A voting rights battle royal began last month when the Department of Justice sued North Carolina over its restrictive new election law. DOJ alleged that the law, which imposes a photo ID requirement for voting, ends same-day voter registration, and cuts back on early voting, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this summer the DOJ also filed two Section 2 suits against Texas, arguing that its photo ID law and electoral district maps are illegal.
Section 2 is the VRA’s core remaining prohibition of racial discrimination in voting. It bans practices that make it more difficult for minority voters to “participate in the political process” and “elect representatives of their choice.” It applies to both redistricting (as in Texas) and voting restrictions (as in North Carolina). And it just became a whole lot more important thanks to the Supreme Court’s June decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which neutered the VRA’s other key provision, Section 5. Section 5 used to bar certain states and cities, mostly in the South, from changing their election laws unless they first received federal approval. To get approval, the jurisdictions had to prove that their changes wouldn’t make minority voters worse off. Now that Section 5 is essentially gone, all eyes are on Section 2.