The Civil Rights Acts provide some of the early federal statutory protections against
discrimination in voting (42 U.S.C. 1971 & 1974). Certain of these protections originated in
the Civil Rights Act of 1870, and were later amended by the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and
The Voting Rights Act, also known as the VRA, was enacted by Congress in 1965
(42 U.S.C. 1973 to 1973bb-1). Pursuant to the VRA, the Attorney General undertakes investigations and
litigation throughout the United States and its territories, conducts administrative reviews of
changes in voting practices and procedures and monitors elections. The VRA has been amended on a number of occasions,
with the most recent major amendments in the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006.
Section 2 of the VRA is
a nationwide prohibition against voting practices and procedures (including redistricting plans and
at-large election systems, poll worker hiring, and voter registration procedures) that
discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.
Section 2 prohibits not only election-related practices and procedures and monitors elections that are intended to
be racially discriminatory, but also those that are shown to have a racially discriminatory result.
Section 4 of the VRA sets forth criteria for determining
whether a jurisdiction is covered under certain of the special provisions of the Act.
Section 5 of the VRA was enacted to
freeze changes in election practices or procedures in covered jurisdictions until
the new procedures have been determined, either after administrative review by the Attorney General, or
after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to have neither
discriminatory purpose or effect. The Attorney General has published detailed
procedures that explain Section 5. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court held that it is
unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the VRA to determine which jurisdictions
are subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the VRA. Shelby County v. Holder,
570 U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013). The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5 itself.
The effect of the Shelby County decision is that the jurisdictions identified by the coverage
formula in Section 4(b) no longer need to seek preclearance for new voting changes, unless they are
covered by a separate court order entered under Section 3(c) of the VRA.
Section 3 and
Section 8 of the VRA give the federal
courts and the Attorney General, respectively, authority to certify counties
for the assignment of federal observers. Federal observers are assigned
to polling places so they can monitor election-day practices in response to concerns about
compliance with the VRA. Department staff may also be sent to monitor elections.
Sections 203 and 4 of the VRA
require certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual written voting materials and voting assistance regarding
covered minority languages. The Attorney General has published detailed
guidelines that explain these language minority requirements.
Section 208 of the VRA provides for voters who need assistance to vote by
reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write. Any such voter may be given
assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter's employer or agent
of the employer or officer or agent of the voter's union.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, also known as VAEHA, was
enacted by Congress in 1984 (42 U.S.C. 1973ee t0 1973ee-6). VAEHA requires states to take certain
steps to make the voting process accessible to people with disabilities.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, also known as UOCAVA, was
enacted by Congress in 1986 (42. U.S.C. 1973ff to 1973ff-7). UOCAVA requires that the states and
territories allow certain U.S. citizens who are away from their homes, including members of the
uniformed services and the merchant marine, their family members, and U.S. citizens who are residing
outside the country to register and vote absentee in federal elections. UOCAVA has been amended
on several occasions, with the most recent major amendments in the Military and Overseas Voter
Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009.
The National Voter Registration Act,
also known as the NVRA or the Motor Voter Act was enacted by Congress in 1993 (42 U.S.C. 1973gg to 1973gg-10).
The NVRA requires states to make voter registration opportunities for federal elections available through
the mail and when people apply for or receive driver licenses, public assistance, disability services and
other government services. The NVRA also provides rules regarding maintenance of voter registration
lists for federal elections.
The Help America Vote Act, also known as HAVA, was
enacted by Congress in 2002 (42 U.S.C. 15301 to 15545). HAVA establishes minimum standards for states
to follow in several key aspects of administration of federal elections, including voting systems, provisional
ballots, voter information posters on election days, first time voters who register to vote by mail and
statewide voter registration databases.
We encourage anyone with a complaint about possible violations of the federal voting rights laws to contact us.
There are no special forms to use or procedures to follow--just call us toll-free at (800) 253-3931, or write to us.
FAQ's - Frequently Asked Questions.