The Civil Rights Division has prepared a summary of some of the more common ways in which the federal voting rights statutes protect the ability of eligible voters to cast ballots that can be counted, organized by topic area instead of by statute.
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 1964.
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, 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.