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Voting Reforms

Voting Rights Act of 1965 The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a watershed event in U.S. history. For the first time the federal government undertook voting reforms that had traditionally been left to the states. The act prohibits the states and their political subdivisions from imposing voting qualifications or prerequisites to voting, or standards, practices, or procedures that deny or curtail the right of a U.S. citizen to vote because of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. The act was extended in 1970 and again in 1982, when its provisions were renewed for an additional 25 years.

Southern states challenged the legislation as a dangerous attack on STATES' RIGHTS, but the Supreme Court, in South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 86 S. Ct. 803, 15 L. Ed. 2d 769 (1966), upheld the constitutionality of the act, despite the fact that the law was, in the words of Chief Justice EARL WARREN, "inventive."

The initial act covered the seven states in the South that had used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other devices to obstruct registration by African Americans. Under the law, a federal court can appoint federal examiners, who are authorized to place qualified persons on the list of eligible voters. The act waived accumulated poll taxes and abolished literacy tests and similar devices in those areas to which the statute applied.

In addition, the act (under Section 5) required the seven states to obtain "preclearance" from the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making changes in the electoral system. The 1982 extension of the act revised this provision, extending it to all states. This means that a voter may challenge a voting practice or procedure on the ground that it is racially discriminatory either by intent or by effect.

Motor Voter Laws A state has the right to require bona fide residency as a prerequisite to the exercise of the right to vote in its elections. The courts have also upheld durational residency requirements (how long a person must have resided in the state) for voting. Beginning in the mid-1970s, however, many states began to abandon durational requirements, making it possible for a new resident to register to vote when he applies for a state driver's license. This "motor voter" statute was first enacted in Minnesota (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 201.161 [1992]) in 1992. By year's end, 27 states had some form of motor voter law. Congress eliminated durational residency requirements for voting with the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973gg et seq.). The act allows anyone over the age of 18 to register to vote while obtaining a driver's license.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Vest to Water RightsVoting - The Growth Of Enfranchisement, Attempts At Disenfranchisement, Rock The Vote And Motor Voter, Voting Reforms