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U.S. Courts Supporting the Right to Vote

August 2, 2016
Plain English Version
People wait in line to vote at the Board of Elections early voting site on October 18, 2012 in Wilson, North Carolina. Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

People wait in line to vote at the Board of Elections early voting site on October 18, 2012 in Wilson, North Carolina. Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images


Americans like to vote in elections. Who has the right to vote is an important issue. Until the last half of the twentieth century, Southern states restricted the voting rights of black people. Everything changed when Congress passed The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A basic element of The Voting Rights Act was that the justice department would oversee the voting laws in certain Southern states. The states did not like this. In 2013 the Supreme Court agreed that some of the supervision of The Voting Rights Act was no longer needed.

Now some states are trying again to restrict the rights of black people and poor people to vote. North Carolina is an example. The federal district court said North Carolina’s new laws were “the most restrictive since the era of Jim Crow.”

The North Carolina legislature did this by:

  • discontinuing same-day registration;
  • reducing early voting;
  • restricting out-of-precinct voting;
  • eliminating one of two Sunday voting days; and
  • using a photo ID system that excluded student and public-assistance photo IDs

North Carolina is a “swing” state. Both parties think they have a chance to win it. Black voters may make the difference in the election for president. Most black people vote for Democrats.

Voter ID photos are a big issue. Not everybody has a driver’s license. It is often not easy to get a non-driver’s license photo ID. North Carolina says photo IDs will stop fraud in voting. But there is almost no evidence that voting fraud has taken place.

Photo IDs are neither good nor bad. However, the court said North Carolina’s reason to require them is to discourage voting. Activists agree that the reason is to reduce the number of votes cast by black people.

The federal courts give states a lot of room to enact voting laws. For example, the drawing of district lines is “political.” When the impact hurts one group – in this instance, a racial group – that is discrimination. That is not legal.

Sources: The Washington Post July 29, 2016 and The Wall Street Journal July 29, 2016

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