Today in Black History (August 6th)

On August 6, 1965 the American Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Pushed for change through the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s were century old practices aimed at preventing Blacks from exercising their legal right to vote. This law provided for automatic suspension of literacy tests and other voter qualification devices because they were applied in a discriminatory way; gave federal voting examiners the authority to register voters in areas not meeting certain voter participation requirements; authorized the U. S. attorney general to investigate the validity of state poll taxes; required federal review to prevent racial discrimination by new state voting laws; and made interference with voting rights conferred by the law a criminal offense.

Addition to this law was the 24th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, prohibiting poll taxes as a qualification for voting in federal elections. In 1970 the Voting Rights Act was extended and the voting age was lowered to 18. The Supreme Court later upheld the vote for 18-year-olds in federal elections, but ruled that Congress had acted unconstitutionally in lowering the voting age to 18 in state and local elections. This problem was solved by the 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, providing that citizens 18 years of age or older could not be denied the franchise “on account of age.”

The Voting Rights Act has been amended twice, in 1975 and 1982. Among the most important provisions of the later amendments were the addition of bilingual requirements in some counties; a permanent nationwide ban on the use of literacy tests as a voting requirement; and a law allowing voters nationwide who are illiterate, blind, or disabled to be assisted in the voting booth by a person of their own choice. These amendments also made it easier for minorities to use the courts to attack discriminatory election methods.

Other laws have been passed that protect the franchise of certain groups; for example, U. S. citizens residing abroad were granted the right to vote in federal elections by absentee ballot in 1975, and voting accessibility for the elderly was guaranteed in 1984.

See HistoricalDocuments.com for more on the Voting Rights Act.

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