When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act last June, Justice Ruth Ginsburg warned that getting rid of the measure was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” The 1965 law required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules. Now that the Supreme Court has invalidated this requirement, GOP lawmakers across the United States are running buck wild with new voting restrictions. Before the Shelby County v. Holder decision came down on June 25, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required federal review of new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South. (In a few of these states, only specific counties or townships were covered.) Chief Justice John Roberts voted to gut the Voting Rights Act on the basis that “our country has changed,” and that blanket federal protection wasn’t needed to stop discrimination. But the country hasn’t changed as much as he may think.
We looked at how many of these 15 states passed or implemented voting restrictions after Section 5 was invalidated, compared to the states that were not covered by the law. (We defined “voting restriction” as passing or implementing a voter ID law, cutting voting hours, purging voter rolls, or ending same-day registration. Advocates criticize these kinds of laws for discriminating against low-income voters, young people, and minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats.) We found that 8 of the 15 states, or 53 percent, passed or implemented voting restrictions since June 25, compared to 3 of 35 states that were not covered under Section 5—or less than 9 percent. Additionally, a number of states not covered by the Voting Rights Act actually expanded voting rights in the same time period.