The Declaration of Independence states that the government’s power is derived “from the consent of the governed.” Despite this grand sentiment, however, it has been up for debate for over two hundred years as to who should be permitted to participate in American democracy. The Fifteenth Amendment’s passage in 1870, while technically banning racial discrimination at the ballot box, was circumvented as the era of Jim Crow was ushered in. Literacy tests, character attestations, violent intimidation, and other obstacles disenfranchised most Black southerners until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was passed. Section 5 of the Act, which required states with histories of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before implementing changes to election administration, served as the first line of defense against suppression efforts for decades. This changed dramatically with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which rendered Section 5 unenforceable.
This thesis investigates the impact of Shelby across the country, studying the rise in various tactics used to limit access to the ballot box for minorities. It posits that every American should have the right to vote easily and without significant burdens. The VRA proved that federal oversight is the most effective way to protect this right. For this reason, it is imperative that Congress passes the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, as both pieces of legislation will protect Americans against recent and ongoing attacks on voting access.