The path toward state voting rights legislation, 1870–2023

1870

1870

The 15th Amendment becomes part of the U.S. Constitution. The 15th Amendment prohibits denying the right to vote based on race. However, states still found ways to deprive Black voters of the right to vote, implementing discriminatory laws such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.

1965

1965

Nearly a century after the passage of the 15th Amendment, Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which includes many voter protections. Two key sections of the law are Section 2, which prohibits discriminatory voting policies, and Section 5, which contained a preclearance process. The preclearance process identified states and localities with histories of racially discriminatory voting practices and required that these jurisdictions submit proposed changes to election laws to the federal government for review to ensure the changes wouldn’t harm voters of color.

1975

1975

The federal Voting Rights Act is amended to add Section 203, which requires that certain jurisdictions with populations that have limited English proficiency provide all materials related to elections—such as ballots, voting notices, registration forms, and polling place information—in the language of the population at issue.

2002

2002

California becomes the first state in the country to enact a state voting rights act: the California Voting Rights Act.

2013

2013

The U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder is decided. The court rules that the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions were required to go through the federal Voting Rights Act’s preclearance process is unconstitutional—thus gutting federal preclearance.

2018

2018

Washington enacts the Washington Voting Rights Act; additional protections are later added in a bill titled “Enhancing the Washington voting rights act,” which is signed into law in April 2023.

2019

2019

Oregon enacts the Oregon Voting Rights Act in 2019.

2021

2021

Virginia enacts the Voting Rights Act of Virginia in 2021.

2022

2022

New York adopts a state voting rights act by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York.

2023

2023

Connecticut becomes the latest state to adopt a state voting rights act by passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of Connecticut as part of the state’s budget. The Connecticut law is one of the most comprehensive state voting rights acts in the country since it prohibits vote dilution broadly, includes a preclearance provision, and incorporates many additional protections.

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