On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark legislation that cleared barriers to the ballot box for all American citizens.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court will hear arguments on Section 5 -- the heart of the Voting Rights Act -- that allows the federal government to block state election practices that are discriminatory. A predominantly white county in Alabama, Shelby County, charges that the decision of Congress in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 is unconstitutional.
The case comes on the heels of a federal election last fall in which our nation witnessed the greatest assault on voting rights in more than a half century. Drastic cuts to early voting hours, restrictive photo ID laws, tens of thousands of registered voters being dropped from poll books due to illegitimate purges were only a few of the tactics used to keep people from voting.
Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami resident who was invited to join first lady Michelle Obama at the recent State of the Union address, stood in line for more than three hours to cast a ballot. Sadly, thousands of voters had to endure waiting times up to eight hours, prompting President Barack Obama to call for the nation to "fix it."
New laws and policies are being considered on the state and federal level now that will make it harder to vote -- particularly for the elderly, the young and people of color. Without the protections afforded by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, many Americans would find voting even more difficult.
Election Day is the one day where we are all equal. Black, brown or white, rich or poor, we all have an equal say in the ballot box. Voting is the most fundamental pillar of a democracy and it is imperative that we keep elections free, fair and accessible to all.
As this important debate begins anew, here are five key misconceptions you need to know about the Voting Rights Act and why it remains as relevant today as the day it was originally signed.
Section 5 unfairly punishes the South for its past
This provision of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get federal "pre-clearance" (essentially, permission from the Department of Justice) before changing any voting procedure. This applies to not just Southern states, but also to other states such as Alaska, Arizona, along with certain counties in New York, Michigan, South Dakota, New Hampshire and California.
Once a state has demonstrated that it can fairly run elections for a period of 10 years, it can be exempted from Section 5. In fact, every jurisdiction that has sought this "bailout" since 1982 has been approved. The jurisdictions that remain covered by Section 5 have not applied for bailouts. They are not being punished for their past, but held accountable for their present practices.