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Understanding the Voting Rights Act of 1965

By Madeline Davis

To understand the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we need to look to 1870 when the 15th Amendment to the constitution was ratified. This amendment was intended to prohibit states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But, in the ensuing decades, discriminatory practices were used to prevent Black Americans, particularly those in the South, from exercising their right to vote.

Among these practices were intimidation and overt violence, as well as a less obvious tactic: gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the active manipulation of voting district boundaries to intentionally favor one party. There are two tactics:

Number one: cracking, or the dilution of voting power by separating clusters of opposition voters across multiple districts, and packing, or concentrating opposition party voters in a single district with the intent of diluting their voting power in surrounding districts.

Although the 15th Amendment to the constitution states, "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," it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, that it became illegal to deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on their race, color, or membership in a minority language group.

Although the Voting Rights Act is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in the U.S., truly equal voting rights are still very much under threat.

So, how can you get involved?

  1. Educate yourself and those around you. Share this information, talk to friends and family about what it means.
  2. Make a plan. Research your local representatives and their initiatives and create a voting plan to take with you to the ballot box.
  3. Hold yourself accountable. Check your registration status, vote early, and encourage those in your community to do the same. 

ACTIVATE YOUR VOICE.

ACTIVATE YOUR VOTE.