What Are the Issues?

Permanent Provisions – Section 2

Section Two of the VRA bans discrimination based on race nation-wide and requires certain localities to provide bilingual assistance to language minority voters. This section prevents the use of restrictive voter registration requirements and districting plans that undermine minority voter influence. This section will remain in place whether or not temporary provisions are extended beyond 2032.

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Temporary Provisions

Pre-clearance

  • Section 5 of the VRA requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have their voting laws and regulations pre-approved (or “pre-cleared”) by the federal government or a federal court before they may be changed. The U.S. Department of Justice also has authority to send federal observers and examiners to covered jurisdictions to monitor elections for fairness. Section 5 was reauthorized with broad bi-partisan support in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2007 (for 25 years).
  • Section 5 applies to any state or county where a literacy test was used as of November 1, 1964, and where less than 50% of the voting age residents of the jurisdiction were registered to vote, or actually voted, in the presidential election of 1964, 1968, or 1972.
    Currently, Section 5 affects all or part of 16 states: All of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Most of Virginia, 4 counties in California, 5 counties in Florida, 2 townships in Michigan, 10 towns in New Hampshire, 3 counties in New York, 40 counties in North Carolina, and three counties in South Dakota.

Bilingual voting materials

  • Section 203 of the Act requires certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual language assistance to voters in communities where there is a concentration of citizens who are limited English proficient. This provision was added to the VRA in 1975 and reauthorized in 1982, 1992, and 2007 (for 25 years).
  • The language assistance provisions of the VRA apply to four language groups:
    • Americans Indians,
    • Asian Americans,
    • Alaskan Natives, and
    • those of Spanish heritage.
  • A community with one of these language groups will qualify for bilingual assistance under Section 203 of the Act if (1) more than 5% of the voting-age citizens in a jurisdiction belong to a single language minority community and have limited English proficiency; OR (2) more than 10,000 voting-age citizens in a jurisdiction belong to a single language minority community and are LEP; AND (3) the illiteracy rate of citizens in the language minority group is higher than the national illiteracy rate.
  • As of 2002, there are 382 local jurisdictions that need to provide language assistance in Spanish and 119 that must provide assistance to Asian Americans, Alaska Natives, and/or Native Americans. Because some of these jurisdictions overlap, a total of 466 local jurisdictions across 31 states are covered by the language minority provisions of the Act.
  • Federal Examiners and Observers
    • Sections 6-9 of the Act authorize the federal government to send federal election examiners and observers to certain jurisdictions covered by Section 5 where there is evidence of attempts to intimidate minority voters at the polls.

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