Voting discrimination persists nationwide, but the worst offenders today are still southern states with a history of such actions, according to a new report that examined 18 years of lawsuits, challenges and settlements. The report, by the National Commission on Voting Rights, is the most comprehensive look at voter discrimination since 2006, when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act. Congress had commissioned a similar report in the lead-up to the reauthorization. The commission was formed in the wake of Shelby v. Holder, the landmark June 2013 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The provision had required that nine states with a history of discrimination, and a handful of counties in other states, submit all voting-law changes to the federal government for preclearance. The court rejected that provision, saying that in a post-civil rights era, it was no longer necessary or constitutional to single out these states because of their history. After Shelby, the commission, a consortium of more than 12 civil rights groups, set out to gather a current record of racial voting discrimination and other election administration problems from 1995 through June 2014. It held more than 25 regional and state-based hearings nationwide.
“The findings actually show that contrary to the [Supreme Court’s] assertion, voting discrimination is still rampant in the states and localities previously covered,” by the provision, said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which led the commission.
The commission identified 171 successful lawsuits that found discrimination and 113 preclearance denials by the Justice Department of attempts to change voting laws in the past 18 years. (It didn’t track unsuccessful lawsuits.) Almost all of the lawsuits were concentrated in formerly precleared states: Texas had the most by far, with 82 — about half of the successful Section 2 cases since 1995. It was followed by Mississippi, which had 13 cases, Georgia, 9; South Dakota, 7; and Louisiana and Florida, which both had 6.
Of the precleared states, Texas had the most denials to voting-law changes under Section 5, with 22. Despite its smaller size, Louisiana was close behind with 21 denials, followed by South Carolina, which has 16; Mississippi with 15; and Georgia, 14. Together, the five states made up four-fifths of the preclearance denials since 1995, the repot found.