The Twenty-fourth Amendment (Amendment XXIV) prohibits both Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of tax. The amendment was proposed by Congress to the states on August 27, 1962, and was ratified by the states on January 23, 1964.
Poll taxes appeared in southern states after Reconstruction as a measure to prevent African Americans from voting, and had been held to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1937 decision Breedlove v. Suttles. At the time of this amendment’s passage, five states still retained a poll tax: Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The amendment made the poll tax unconstitutional in regards to federal elections. However, it was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) that poll taxes for state elections were unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Forty-nine years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, taking an enormous step toward protecting the right to vote for all Americans.Decades of concerted effort on the part of state and local officials to disenfranchise African Americans through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and sheer intimidation had inspired little action from Congress.
But the momentum created by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the horrified reaction to violence inflicted upon voting-rights protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965, drove federal legislators to craft a response.
The resulting legislation, signed into law at the Capitol with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and other civil-rights leaders looking on, has stood firmly for nearly half a century.
Among other measures, the VRA outlawed literacy tests and empowered the U.S. Department of Justice to challenge the use of poll taxes in state and local elections. Passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964 already barred the use of poll taxes in national elections.
Section 2 is largely a restatement of the 15th Amendment, prohibiting any voting rules or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color. Amendments to the VRA in 1975 extended its protections to members of a language minority group, such as speakers of Spanish or Native American languages.
Moreover, thanks to another round of amendments in 1982, citizens today who challenge voting regulations under Section 2 need only prove that, in the “totality of the circumstance of the local electoral process,” the rules have merely the effect of abridging the right to vote.
In crafting the original VRA, Congress also provided for special intervention in jurisdictions where racial discrimination is believed to be greatest. Under Section 5, those parts of the country identified by a formula established in Section 4 must obtain “pre-clearance” from the DOJ or the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia before making any changes to its voting laws.
In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), however, the Supreme Court struck down the Section 4 formula, leaving Section 5 intact but requiring legislators to redraw its coverage before further enforcement. Since the ruling, several amendments have been proposed but Congress has thus far declined to act.
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Holder to black leaders: ‘Sacred’ right to vote under attack
5/30/12 11:28 AM EDT By JOSEPH WILLIAMS – POLITICO
Attorney General Eric Holder told a council of African American church leaders Wednesday that the “sacred” right to vote is under assault nationwide, with federal lawsuits and at least a dozen state laws that could weaken — or block — minority access to the ballot box this fall.
Forty-seven years after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, “overt and subtle forms of discrimination still exists,” Holder said in a speech before the Council of Black Churches. The twin factors of lingering bias and systematic assaults from the right, he said, means that “for the first time in our [lifetimes], we are failing to live up to one of our most noble ideals” – the right to equal access to the vote.
The brief speech was a call to arms for the black church, which since the days of the civil rights movement has been active in fighting for equal voting right for minorities. Holder, who was warmly received by the audience, told them his office is “aggressively” taking on the task of protecting that right, including challenging several state lawsuits that would overturn key provisions of the Voting Rights Act involving redistricting in Southern states and strict new voter I’d laws that could keep minorities, the elderly and young people of all races from casting ballots in the 2012 election – which analysts expect will be decided by a narrow margin.
Ensuring that everyone who is qualified can vote “is one of our highest priorities,” Holder told the council, adding that during his watch the Justice Department has taken on more than 100 cases involving voting within the past year, “a record number.” Since President Bush re-authorized the Section 5 provision of the Voting Rights Act, which requires some Southern states to get federal approval before making broad changes to laws involving voting, “it has consistently come under attack by those who say it is no longer needed.”
Holder also rejected conservatives’ contention that making it easier to vote invites fraud, a key argument in calling for tougher voter I’d laws. Recalling that protesters and faith leaders faced violence and death to gain that right during the 1960s civil rights movement, Holder called on black churches to mobilize as an ally of the Justice Department, informing the larger community and pushing back against restrictive proposals.
“We have to honor the generations that took extraordinary risks” to guarantee equal access to the polls, Holder said. The nation has made tremendous progress, he added, but “this fight must go on.”
Tribal leaders welcome Holder’s voting access plan
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 15:28 by RACHEL D’ORO, Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday his office will consult with tribes across the country to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Holder said the goal is to require state and local election officials to place at least one polling site in a location chosen by tribal governments in parts of the nation that include tribal lands. Barriers to voting, he said, include English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places.
In Alaska, for example, the village of Kasigluk is separated into two parts by a river with no bridge. On election day, people on one side have just a few hours to vote before a ballot machine is taken by boat to the other side. Several other Alaska villages have been designated as permanent absentee voting areas, which is something allowed by regulation, according to Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Division of Elections.
In Montana, a voting rights lawsuit is pending from tribal members on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations. They want county officials to set up satellite voting offices to make up for the long distances they must travel to reach courthouses for early voting or late registration.
“These conditions are not only unacceptable, they’re outrageous,” Holder said. “As a nation, we cannot — and we will not — simply stand by as the voices of Native Americans are shut out of the democratic process.”
After consulting with tribal leaders, his office will seek to work with Congress on a potential legislative proposal, Holder said.
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