The preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act required that all or part of 15 states submit their election changes to federal officials for approval. Today, five members of the Court ruled that the Section 4 coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional and can no longer be used to require that areas preclear their election rules with federal officials. The Court invalidated the coverage formula because the Justices believed the formula was based on outdated election data from the 1960s and 1970s. Today’s Supreme Court decision is a setback for democracy. Unfortunately, today’s decision gives politicians even more power to unfairly manipulate election rules and target Americans based on how they look or talk. There is overwhelming evidence that unfair voting rules remain a very real threat—too many political operatives currently manipulate rules to diminish the voices of growing minority communities.
Due to today’s decision, protecting voting rights now will be more expensive and slower. We will miss a lot of under-the-radar manipulation. It also will be tougher to stop unfair rules before they are actually used in elections and harm voters. The biggest problem will be the under-the-radar manipulation of election rules for local offices that are often non-partisan and escape national attention—over 85% of all election rule changes rejected as unfair under Section 5 were at the local level.
While today’s Supreme Court decision is a setback, fortunately the Court provided Congress the opportunity to update the Act. Voting rights protections are still needed, and it is feasible to design up-to-date and adequate protections.