Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report, An
Assessment of Minority Voting Rights Access in the United States. Based on extensive
research and expert and public testimony, the report assesses minority voter access
around the country, and evaluates the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the
Voting Rights Act (VRA) since 2006, in particular after the Supreme Court’s Shelby
County v. Holder decision. In Shelby County, the Supreme Court held that preclearance
provisions of the VRA unconstitutionally determined which jurisdictions needed federal
government pre-approval to change voting procedures.
Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said, “Today’s report reflects the reality that citizens in the
United States – across many states, not limited only to some parts of the country –
continue to suffer significant, and profoundly unequal, limitations on their ability to
vote. That stark reality denigrates our democracy and diminishes our ideals. This level
of ongoing discrimination confirms what was true before 1965, when the Voting Rights
Act became law, and has remained true since 1965: Americans need strong and effective
federal protections to guarantee that ours is a real democracy.”
Key unanimous findings and recommendations from the Commission include:
• In states across the country — and particularly in many previously covered under
the preclearance requirements of the VRA — new laws and voting
procedures are impacting minority voting rights. Examples of such laws
and procedures include:
o Strict voter ID laws;
o Closing polling places;
o Cutting early voting;
o Voting roll purges and challenges to eligibility.
• Since Shelby County halted the federal preclearance regime, elections have
taken place under laws that were later found in court to be
intentionally discriminatory against communities of color
• In the face of ongoing discrimination in voting procedures enacted by states
across the country, enforcement and litigation under Section 2 of the VRA is an
inadequate, costly and often slow method for protecting voting rights.
• Because of the nature of voting rules being broadly applicable to all eligible
voters, a single change in law, procedure, or practice can disproportionately affect
large numbers of eligible voters and possibly discriminate against certain groups
of people whose voting rights are protected by the VRA.
The Commission, unanimously, calls on Congress to:
• Amend the VRA to restore and expand protections against
discrimination, including federal preclearance.
• When establishing the reach of an amended VRA preclearance coverage
provision, include current evidence of, and historical and persisting
patterns of, discrimination.• Consider the reality that infringement of voting rights may arise in
jurisdictions that do not have extensive histories of discrimination, as
minority populations shift.
• Provide a streamlined remedy to review changes with known risks of
discrimination, before they take effect — not after potentially tainted
The Commission, unanimously, calls on the Department of Justice to:
• Pursue more VRA enforcement to address the aggressive efforts by
state and local officials to limit the vote of citizens of color, citizens with
disabilities, and those with limited-English proficiency.
In North Carolina, we held a public briefing on voting rights, receiving testimony from
23 current and government officials, legal experts, academics, civil society actors, and
some 40 members of the public. Twelve Commission state Advisory Committees –
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, New
Hampshire, Ohio, and Texas – have carried out their own voting rights investigations,
contributing to this Commission report.
The Commission was established in 1957 with the initial charge of addressing voting
rights. Commission reporting on pervasive voting discrimination in the 1950s and 60s
contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.