Last year, we wrote extensively about photo ID laws and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, with gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and the debt ceiling and healthcare debates already shaping the 2014 midterms, we’re revisiting voting policies to see which states have enacted tougher restrictions since the Supreme Court ruling in June. Under the Voting Rights Act, states and localities with a history of racial discrimination needed to get permission from the federal government to enact any changes to their voting laws, in a process called “preclearance.” As of June 2013, nine states, mostly in the South – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – needed to get any new voting laws pre-approved. Some counties and townships in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Michigan were also subject to preclearance. Section 5 first applied to states that imposed literacy tests or other unfair devices, and had low voter registration or turnout. Congress later expanded the law to add jurisdictions with sizable minority populations and English-only election materials.
States and localities could “bailout,” or get off the preclearance list, after 10 years of elections without any problems. Several smaller jurisdictions bailed out over the years, including parts of Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Colorado.
Of course, some of the biggest voting law battles of the 2012 election were in states not covered by Section 5 at all, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Supreme Court decided, 5-4, that the preclearance formula was unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment, which gives states the power to regulate elections. The Court ruled that the coverage formula was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”