From the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 until the summer of 2013, several
states were required to submit all electoral policies for preclearance, usually received by the
Attorney General. This practice was codified by Section 5 of the VRA and targeted states and
localities that had a history of discriminatory and restrictive electoral policies directed at
limiting the influence of language and racial minorities. After the Supreme Court’s 2013
decision in Shelby County v. Holder, some formerly covered jurisdictions responded to their
newfound freedom from preclearance by implementing restrictive policies. The controversial
Court decision and subsequent spate of potentially discriminatory election policies have raised
questions about the past and future efficacy of the VRA and Section 5. Guided by the debate over
the relevance of the VRA, this Paper examines the policy history of ten states formerly covered
by Section 5, as well as recent developments from similar states that were never covered,
Documenting each policy objected to by the Attorney General provides a framework to examine
which states were the biggest offenders and what methods they employed in their attempts to
limit minority voting influence. Using the previous half-century of data as a basis for
understanding contemporary policy developments, this Paper finds that preclearance remains an
important tool in combatting restrictive policies, at least in some specific states and localities.
Moreover, this historical analysis paired with an overview of recent state behavior informs
current and future discussions about a revised version of preclearance coverage.
The Voting Rights Act and State Behavior: How Section 5 Coverage has Shaped State and Local Policy.
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