In 2011 and 2012, 19 states passed more than two-dozen measures that would have effectively made it harder to vote, the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era. These measures included voter ID laws, early-voting cutbacks, and curbs on community-based voter registration drives – all of which imposed burdens on minority voters.
The Brennan Center for Justice and other voting-rights advocates fought back. Citizens rejected these laws at the polls, nearly a dozen courts overturned or weakened restrictive measures, and the Department of Justice blocked others. In the end, far fewer voters were affected by the voting-law changes than initially predicted.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was instrumental in protecting these votes.
For example, last year, the Department of Justice opposed a Texas law demanding strict photo identification that many eligible Americans do not have. In late August 2012, the reviewing federal court agreed, denying Texas preclearance for the change because the voter ID law would have negatively impacted minority voters. A federal court also refused to preclear the legislature’s redistricting plan, finding the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities. Because of Section 5, Texas could not implement these measures.
Likewise, in Florida last year, the Justice Department opposed portions of a Florida law that cut the early-voting period in half, among other restrictions. A federal court denied preclearance to Florida’s law based on evidence it reduced early-voting opportunities used disproportionately by minority voters.
In South Carolina as well, the Brennan Center got involved in a case arguing against preclearance of the state’s voter ID requirement. The court did approve the law for future elections (it was not in effect for 2012 because there was not enough time for citizens to obtain proper ID), but it approved it only after interpreting the law in a way that allows all South Carolinians to vote even if they lack photo ID.