Voting Rights Act of 1965 Term Paper

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S., given the increased pressures made on the political scene to include all citizens the right to express their political and social choices at the polls. Martin Luther King Jr. was in this sense one of the most important figures of the emancipation process because he constantly tried to advance the issue of the right of black people to vote and bring it to the attention of the public through peaceful manifestations and quiet marches. However, despite his efforts "when Congress wrote the act, many southern states were engaged in extraordinary efforts to deny black citizens their Fifteenth Amendment right to vote" (Ponnuru, 2006). From this point-of-view it was clear that certain modifications had to be made and interventions had to be imposed to states.

Accordingly, the Act tried to resolve a number of issues. Firstly, it tried to give the 14th Amendment a stronger and more important role in the issue of voting. In this sense it underlined the fact that "no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color," thus pointing out the fact that there should be no obstacle imposed to citizens to exercise their right to vote (Bolick, 1995). It drew the attention thus on the tax poll issue which was indeed a matter of substantial consideration because it limited citizens to vote on account of their financial situation.

Secondly, it tried to solve an issue that had been a long standing affair in relation to the exercise of the right to vote. More precisely, up until that moment it was the federal or state courts legislation that interpreted previous laws and the issue of voting was established case by case. However, these proved to be ineffective, as the "Congress determined that the existing federal anti-discrimination laws were not sufficient to overcome the resistance by state officials to enforcement of the 15th Amendment. The legislative hearings showed that the Department of Justice's efforts to eliminate discriminatory election practices by litigation on a case-by-case basis had been unsuccessful in opening up the registration process; as soon as one discriminatory practice or procedure was proven to be unconstitutional and enjoined, a new one would be substituted in its place and litigation would have to commence anew" (United States Department of Justice, n.d.). Therefore, action had to be taken in order to advance the issue of the right to vote available for all the U.S. citizens in a manner which was more visible and coherent for the legislature of the states and the federal body as well.

Thirdly, the Voting Rights Act also tried to address the issue of the arbitrary determination of the law at the level of the state legislatures. Thus, before the Act was passed by the Congress, state legislature, dominated by the white population, tried to limit the access of black people to the polls by imposing different double standards such as the tax polls, the literacy tests, or the vouchers of good character. These were not practices used throughout the country. They were rather choices made at the local level, an element which draws the attention on the various political considerations in relation to the right to vote, to be elected and to be represented.

Finally, another important issue the Act tried to solve in the American society at the type was the reapportionment of the territory. In the early sixties there were certain practices which tried to influence the relationship between white and black voters. More precisely, in most cases it meant a redistribution of the territory so as to reduce the power of the minority groups and to negatively influence their vote. In this sense, "in many states malapportioned legislative districts had resulted in sparsely-populated rural counties having a much greater share of their state's political power than their state's population (and) certain types of apportionment might unconstitutionally dilute the voting strength of racial minorities" (United States Department of Justice, n.d.). Therefore, the attempt to reduce these practices was visible in the Voting Rights Act.

The major points of the piece of legislation included a series of provisions which tried to deal precisely with the problems facing the society at that particular moment. First and foremost, it legalized the right to vote for every citizen, without consideration to his skin color or race. This was indeed a major breakthrough taking into account the period under discussion when the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak through personalities such as Martin Luther Jing jr, or Malcolm X (Jenkins, 1997).

Secondly, it established the authority of the Attorney General over any possible abuses or breaches of the right to vote in different states. In this sense, "the Act contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest. Under Section 5, jurisdictions covered by these special provisions could not implement any change affecting voting until the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect" (United States Department of Justice, n.d.). In this way, although the population was given the opportunity to exercise their right, the states had to be somewhat limited in their powers to impose certain contrary regulations. Thus, the Act impacted both the federal system, as well as the state system.

Thirdly, although the poll tax was not specifically prohibited, it no longer represented an issue limiting the right of citizens to vote. Following the enactment of the piece of legislation, the Attorney General had the possibility and duty to inquire on such matters (the Avalon Project, 2007). Therefore, there was now an element of control over the activities of the states which came to represent a stronger influence that the Court rulings in case-by-case issues.


The Voting Rights Act is considered to be the most important piece of legislation passed by the Congress. However, it was not flawless. Even after its enactment, the Court was subject to various statements concerning the different attempts from the states to deny the right to vote to some groups pertaining to minority groups. In this sense, in 1970 and in 1975 the scope of Section 5 which provided that the Attorney General is the one responsible for considering whether a state is imposing or not vote discrimination rules, was extended with five years each time. Throughout this period however, the practice of this right was not easy. In this sense, "in 1973, the Supreme Court held certain legislative multi-member districts unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment on the ground that they systematically diluted the voting strength of minority citizens in Bexar County, Texas" (United States Department of Justice, n.d). The 1982 Amendments presented, among other issues, the possibility of the person arguing state discrimination and the limitation of his right to vote to benefit from a milder treatment and not be forced to prove the discriminatory nature of the respective rule.


Overall, it can be said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an important and decisive legislative creation of the U.S. Congress. It enabled the people to become full aware of their status as U.S. citizens both as tax payers and as partners in the governing aspect. However, it was not an easy process, without drawbacks and it required constant struggle. Nonetheless, it ensured that citizens can truly benefit from their rights and privileges.


History of Congressional Consideration of the Women's Suffrage Issue." The National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. N.d. 18 Jan. 2008,

14 th. Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 1997. 18 Jan. 2008

Bolick, Clint. "Bad Fences: To Preserve American Democracy, We Must Return to the Original Aims of the Voting Rights Act." National Review. Volume: 47. Issue: 6. April 3, 1995.

Dunleavy, Patrick, and Brendan O'Leary. Theories of the state. The Politics of Liberal Democracy. London and New York: Macmillan and Meredith, 1987.

Jackson, Jesse Jr. "The Right to Vote." The Nation. 2006. 18 Jan. 2008

Jenkins, P. A history of the United States. New York: Palgrave, 1997.

Noone, John B., Jr. "The Social Contract and the Idea of Sovereignty in Rousseau." The Journal of Politics, Vol. 32, No. 3. (Aug., 1970), pp. 696-708.

Olson, Tod. "History: The Right to Vote." Scholastic website. 2006. 18 Jan. 2008.

Ponnuru, Ramesh "The Longest 'Emergency': Congress Debates (Sort of) the Voting Rights Act of 1965." National Review. Volume: 58. Issue: 13. 2006.

The Avalon Project. "Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965." Yale Law School. 2007. 18 Jan. 2008

The History of Voting. Scholastic. 2008. 18 Jan.…[continue]

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