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Better Days 2020 – Week 10 – The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, in Maps and Charts

June 1, 2020

President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., Patricia Roberts Harris, and others after signing the VRA on August 6, 1965. LBJ Library.

Welcome back to Reading Club! For our last week, we’re looking at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), an essential piece of legislation protecting the rights of people of color who often faced significant obstacles when trying to vote. This Vox article by Dara Lind features 19 different charts and maps specifically about the impact of the VRA and the history around it.

Although the 15th Amendment outlawing race-based voter disenfranchisement was ratified in 1870 after the Civil War, many states created restrictions to prevent people of color from voting. Often described as Jim Crow laws, these restrictions created poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other requirements which disproportionately disenfranchised black Americans and other people of color — especially women of color. So when the VRA passed in 1965, the number of US citizens registering to vote grew, especially women citizens. One example of the impact of the VRA is this statistic from the Center for American Progress: while only 1 in 20 voters during the 1964 presidential election were women of color, more than 1 in 6 voters were women of color in the 2012 presidential election.

Courtesy of Flickr.

However, a key provision of the VRA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, ruling that some places specifically targeted in the VRA no longer needed federal permission to change voting laws. This part of the law had increased voting by women and people of color before being struck down. As we think about the struggle for women’s suffrage, particularly Utah women’s impact, the VRA is an important part of that history. 

Currently in Utah, there are nearly 300,000 women who are eligible to vote — yet not registered. Knowing the rich and diverse history of voting rights here in Utah and beyond, how can we encourage more women to register and participate? Check out the graphs from Vox and let us know what you think! If you want to get registered or help others register, check out Voterise, a Utah-based organization designed to streamline voter registration!

Thank you to all of you who participated in Better Days 2020 Reading Club! Please comment on our social media posts with any of your thoughts about the articles; we would love to hear them!

Questions to Consider:

  • What impact did the VRA have on women’s voter participation?
  • How do you think the VRA specifically impacted women in Utah?
  • How can we protect the right to vote for all US citizens? 
  • How can we help register women who are eligible to vote but haven’t yet registered?

You can find previous Better Days 2020 Reading Club topics here.

Thanks to our intern Maya Brimhall for preparing the materials for this week’s topic. Maya is a current BYU History and Global Women’s Studies student from Mesa, Arizona. She loves socializing, studying women’s history, and eating all types of sweet treats!