Voting Rights: The Fight Continues Today

Throughout our history, Americans have fought and died for the right to vote. And while we've made significant progress, even today there are those who seek to limit voting rights. In 2013 alone, 11 Republican-controlled states have taken action to limit people's Constitutional right to vote. But as Democrats, we're not backing down and will continue to fight to expand access to the polls for every eligible voter.

Scroll down to follow the history of voting rights in our country, see what's happening today, see how Democrats are fighting back, and most importantly, how you can get involved.

It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition.
Abraham Lincoln, July 30, 1863

April 12, 1861 — May 10, 1865: The Civil War

The end of the Civil War not only abolished slavery, but started the movement to give all American citizens — regardless of race — the right to vote.

Reconstruction and the 15th Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Women's Suffrage

For America’s women, securing the right to vote was a long, hard-fought struggle. Their peaceful protests were met with jail time, ridicule and social exile. In jail, they were often tortured, beaten, and forced to live in inhumane conditions. But their efforts were not in vain.

Victory through the 19th Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

The Civil Rights Movement

While the Constitution guarantees equal rights for every American citizen, through the 1960s some states continued to employ discriminatory voter suppression tactics to keep African-Americans from the polls. These efforts were met by protests — including “Bloody Sunday,” when 500 activists marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, only to be met at the Edmund Pettus bridge by state and local police who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas, all because they peacefully demanded the right to vote.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Historic Voting Rights Act

In response to states passing discriminatory laws aimed at disenfranchising voters, Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act provides a variety of protections and required states with a history of discrimination to acquire federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.

A Setback for Voting Rights — June 25, 2013

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — eliminating the formula used to identify states with a history of voting discrimination and disenfranchisement. Congress now has the opportunity fix the formula and reinstate the act. As Democrats, we will pursue every avenue — legal, political and through grassroots advocacy — to fix the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans want to make it harder to vote.

Following the Supreme Court's decision, Republicans across the country have moved quickly to pass restrictive voting laws. Here's a look at what they're doing now and how you can fight back.
States that have taken action to limit voting rights in 2013
States that have taken action to limit voting rights in 2013, which would have been unable to prior to the 2013 Supreme Court VRA ruling
States that were subject to pre-clearance under the VRA, prior to the 2013 Supreme Court VRA ruling
* Five counties in Florida were included in pre-clearance
  • Alabama

    Alabama has a long history of voter suppression. As a result, through the Voting Rights Act, they were required by the Federal Government to get approval for any new election laws prior to their implementation. With Section 4 gone, the Republican-controlled legislature is moving quickly to implement restrictive Voter ID laws. These laws are now set to take effect in the 2014 primaries. If a voter does not have a government-issued ID, they will be forced to go through a lengthy process to gain access to the polls. This law will affect thousands of Alabamians and prevent them from exercising their fundamental right as Americans.

  • Alaska

    Alaska is currently engaged in redistricting. With the process underway and the recent Supreme Court decision eliminating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, there is great potential for Republicans, who have long held power in Alaska, to engage in gerrymandering — an effort that could negatively impact native Alaskans.

  • Arkansas

    Despite a veto from the state’s Governor, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Arkansas passed a strict voter ID law. The law will go into effect by January. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nationally as many as 11% of eligible voters lack some form of government-issued photo ID — with low-income voters, communities of color, and the elderly disproportionately affected. This law will affect thousands of Arkansans and make it harder for them to exercise their fundamental right as Americans.

  • Florida

    Following the Supreme Court's decision, Republican Governor Rick Scott has resumed a controversial voter purge program aimed at taking alleged "non-citizens" off the voting rolls. This shameful attempt to shrink the electorate was the same tactic used in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, when the Department of Justice sued the state of Florida for attempting to disqualify thousands of voters less than 90 days before an election. Of the 180,000 potential non-citizens identified for purging in 2012, less than 0.02% were actually ineligible. While Hispanic voters make up only 13 percent of Florida’s electorate, nearly 60 percent of those included in the initial list were Hispanic.

  • Mississippi

    Mississippi has a long history of voter suppression. As a result, through the Voting Rights Act, they were required by the Federal Government to get approval for any new voting laws prior to their implementation. With Section 4 stricken, the Republican Secretary of State is moving quickly to implement restrictive laws. For example, for the first time in the state’s history, Mississippi voters will have to show some form of government-issued photo ID beginning in June 2014. The law will affect more than 60,000 eligible voters in Mississippi who do not have one of the required forms of ID.

  • Montana

    Montana’s Republican-controlled Senate recently passed a measure that would put proposals on the 2014 ballot to restrict voter registration. These measures could lead to widespread voter confusion, as well as restrict the ability of third-party candidates to compete in general elections. Voters could be asked to eliminate the very popular same-day voter registration and put in place a new primary system that would pave the way for only majority parties to get candidates on the ballot.

  • New Hampshire

    New Hampshire’s confusing voter identification law is set to go into effect on September 1, 2013. Voters must present identification at the polls. Election officials will be instructed to accept any identification they believe to be "legitimate," — a measure that could lead to different interpretations and implementations of the law. Another provision of the law would require poll workers to photograph all voters on Election Day. This provision has been delayed two years due to legal and privacy concerns.

  • North Carolina

    A month after the Supreme Court’s ruling, North Carolina passed the most restrictive voter suppression law in the country. Under this law, North Carolina:

    • Implemented strict voter ID, including not allowing student IDs as a valid form of identification
    • Eliminated same-day voter registration
    • Cut early voting by a week
    • Ended Sunday early voting.

    This law is projected to affect at least 318,000 North Carolinians, who are disproportionately communities of color, students, the elderly, and low-income voters.

  • Pennsylvania

    In the 2012 election cycle, Republicans passed a voter ID law. Because of its restrictive nature, the law was challenged and is currently part of a lawsuit. If the court upholds the law, Pennsylvania’s voter ID law will be one of the strictest in the nation, disproportionately affecting an estimated 750,000 eligible voters who lack government-issued photo ID.

  • South Carolina

    Before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the Department of Justice successfully blocked South Carolina’s voter identification law. However, with the Voting Rights Act dismantled, the law will now go into effect. For the first time in the state’s history, voters will be required to present some form of government-issued photo ID — a move that will overwhelmingly affect low-income voters and communities of color in the state. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nationally as many as 11% of eligible voters lack some form of government-issued photo ID.

  • Texas

    Before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the Department of Justice successfully blocked Texas’s voter identification law. However, with the Voting Rights Act dismantled, the law will now go into effect. This law has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Texans. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nationally as many as 11% of eligible voters could be affected by laws like this one.

  • Virginia

    Beginning on July 1, 2014, Virginia will have a strict voter ID requirement. All IDs must be current and valid, and have a photo of the voter. Prior to this law, voters only needed to show some form of non-photo ID in order to vote. This law is projected to disproportionately affect the state’s students, communities of color, and elderly populations. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nationally as many as 11% of eligible voters could be affected by laws like this one.


We're fighting back — join us.

As Republicans work to limit voting rights, Democrats are fighting back:

  • While the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the other sections remain intact. We are using every remaining tool in the VRA to combat restrictive laws. Under President Obama's leadership, the administration is already challenging laws in Texas.
  • The President's new Commission on Electoral Administration is finding better ways to expand access to the polls. They are holding public hearings around the country to hear directly from the American people about voting rights violations that have occurred, and proposing solutions to address them going forward.
  • Democratic lawmakers have formed a working group to reestablish the proven protections of pre-clearance — the formula that was used to determine which states would be required to get federal approval before passing any voting laws. This group is crafting amendments to the law that would reinstate the protections.
  • Democratic leaders continue to pass laws that expand access to the polls. Most recently, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law sweeping voting reforms in Colorado: every registered voter will automatically receive a mail-in ballot, voters will be able to vote at centers across the state rather than just their precinct, early voting has been expanded, and there is same-day voter registration. In Maryland, Governor O'Malley signed into law similar measures: expanding early voting hours and providing for same-day voter registration during the early voting period.