When the United States was founded, slaves, people without property, women, and Native Americans did not have the right to vote. Over generations, laws and amendments have addressed these democratic oversight. The most sweeping and historical legislation was passed by Congress in 1965 -- the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which outlawed discrimination in voting, expanding expanded voting rights to African Americans, women and young people and removed barriers such as poll taxes.
Today, more than half a century later, many people still have difficulty accessing polls. In recent years, many states have passed laws making voting for certain populations especially difficult. These include voter ID laws, restrictions on opportunities to register, and reduced early voting options. Such laws have been known to suppress voting by the elderly, young people, poor people and people of color. The US Congress has repeatedly found that discrimination in voting continues, and has reauthorized the VRA four times, most recently in 2006.
The goal of the legislation has been subverted however, by a 2013 US Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That ruling invalidated an obligation – called preclearance – that required states with a history of discrimination in voting to have any proposed changes to their state’s voting laws to be reviewed by the federal government. States are no longer required to have a review of their proposed laws. This means that any communities facing discriminatory voting laws in their state must file suits themselves or rely on the Justice Department to challenge proposed laws.
As a result of Shelby, several states have passed a wave of laws that make voting cumbersome for poor people, people of color, and elderly people. In these states, laws that made it easier to register or cast have been revised, creating barriers to voting.
The struggle for full voting rights in the United States continues – and requires vigilance from everyone to make sure the UDHR vision of “full and equal suffrage” is ensured.