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Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that aimed to address and eliminate racial discrimination in voting. This Act is considered one of the most important laws in the history of civil rights and played a significant role in ensuring equal access to the voting process for all citizens.

Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, racial discrimination and voter suppression were rampant in many Southern states, particularly through tactics such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and other measures designed to disenfranchise African American voters. These practices were a direct violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibited discrimination in voting based on race, colour, or previous condition of servitude. However, these discriminatory practices persisted.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 contained several important provisions to address and eliminate racial discrimination in voting:

Section 2: This section prohibits any standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race or colour. It applies nationwide and is a permanent provision of the law.

Section 4: Section 4 established a formula to identify jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination. These jurisdictions were subject to special provisions in Section 5.

Section 5: This section required certain jurisdictions, primarily in the South, to obtain federal approval or preclearance before making any changes to their voting laws or practices. This preclearance requirement was intended to prevent discriminatory voting changes.

Section 203: This section requires certain jurisdictions with a significant population of non-English-speaking citizens to provide bilingual election materials and assistance.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had a profound impact on American democracy. It led to a significant increase in African American voter registration and participation, particularly in the Southern states. By eliminating discriminatory practices and ensuring federal oversight of voting changes in certain jurisdictions, the Act helped protect the voting rights of minority citizens.

The Act was reauthorised and expanded several times in the following decades, most recently in 2006. However, in the Supreme Court case Shelby County v Holder (2013), the Court struck down the formula used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance under Section 5. This decision effectively weakened the preclearance requirement, leading to renewed debates about the protection of voting rights.

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