WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 6, 2014) — A year after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted a vital protection of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the National Commission on the Voting Rights (NCVR), led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, released a groundbreaking national report revealing where and how minorities continue to experience discrimination in the U.S.
Four states formerly covered by Section 5 of the VRA- Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia- rank as the worst offenders. Without the key protections of the VRA, minority voters will be more vulnerable to discrimination as they head to the polls for the upcoming mid-year general elections than at any time in recent decades.
The report, Protecting Minority Voters: Our Work is Not Done, challenges the Court’s rationale that improvements in minority citizens’ rates of voter registration and turnout, and the success of minority candidates, indicated that the coverage formula reauthorized by Congress in 2006 was unconstitutionally outdated. The findings show that contrary to the Court’s assertion, voting discrimination is still rampant and that the states and localities previously covered by Section 4 (the VRA provision struck down by the Court) continue to implement voting laws and procedures that disproportionally affect African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters.
“This report shows that racial discrimination in voting is a widespread and ongoing problem,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the lead organization supporting the NCVR. “In the past 20 years, we’ve seen repeated attempts by states and localities with the worst records of voting discrimination to make it harder for minorities to register and cast their ballots. The record presents a powerful case for why we need to continue to provide protections to all voters.”
The report offers a comprehensive assessment of discriminatory voting practices since 1995, including legal cases filed on behalf of minority voters; analysis of restrictive state voting laws and practices that make it harder for minorities to vote; and highlights from the testimony received from the hundreds of witnesses at 25 public hearings organized by the National Commission.
Some of the key findings of the report include:
• Between 1995-2014 — Voting discrimination is a frequent and ongoing problem in the United States. There were at least 332 successful voting rights lawsuits and denials of Section 5 preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from 1995 through 2013 and another ten non-litigation settlements.
• Voting discrimination takes a variety of forms. Discriminatory redistricting plans and at-large elections continue to prompt the most successful lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, there were also 48 successful lawsuits and ten non-litigation settlements relating to language translation and assistance.
Formerly covered states in the South and Southwest stand out with some of worse records of voting discrimination. Texas stands out as having a remarkably high level of documented voting discrimination, including multiple state-level violations. Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina also had far higher levels of problems than average.
The federal observer program provided an important deterrence against voter discrimination with 10,702 observers deployed from 1995-2012. As a result of the Shelby County decision, the DOJ is no longer deploying federal observers to the formerly covered states.
“Voting is a basic right and the foundation of a democratic nation, said Dolores Huerta, national commissioner to the NCVR and life-long social justice leader. “We have to do everything in our power to insure that every voter is protected by law and practices regardless of their income level, age or ethnicity. Every vote counts and every voter should be given the assistance, education and access they need to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
The NCVR was convened in the aftermath of the Shelby decision to gather a comprehensive record of voting across all 50 states. In addition to Ms. Huerta, the NCVR is led by the following national commissioners: NAACP Vice Chair Leon Russell; former assistant attorney general for civil rights, John Dunne; Arizona State college professor and Indian Law Clinic Director Patty Ferguson-Bohnee; and League of Young Voters Executive Director Biko Baker.
“I believe that the report that we are releasing today provides clear evidence of the continued need for strong voting rights Legislation to protect the rights of all Americans to cast a free and unfettered ballot,”said Mr. Russell. “These efforts are current and ongoing.”
The report’s executive summary, report, supplemental appendices with tables, maps, legal cases listings by state and hearing highlights and photographs, as well as more information on the National Commission on Voting Rights can be found at: www.votingrightstoday.org.
The National Commission on Voting Rights, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of the civil rights community, is holding hearings across the country to gather testimony about voting rights and election administration problems and opportunities. The testimony gathered at the hearings will be consolidated into two reports to be shared with Congress, advocates and state activists interested in advancing voting rights. For more information about the National Commission on Voting Rights, please visit ncvr.lawyerscommittee.org.