Section Two and Section Five

Sections Two and Five of the VRA are especially important. Section 2 prohibits attempts to dilute the votes of minorities. Dilution occurs when the full effect of a block of voters is deliberately and unfairly negated. Vote dilution can occur through legislation or other situations that weaken the voting strength of minorities. Section Two prohibits cities and towns from establishing practices designed to prevent minorities a fair chance to elect candidates of their choice. Section Two is enforceable nationwide.

Section Five of the VRA requires certain designated areas of the country to obtain “pre-clearance” from the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for any changes that impact voting. These special areas are called “covered jurisdictions.” Accordingly, covered jurisdictions must obtain approval before they can administer any new electoral practices. All areas in the following states are subject to Section Five pre-clearance.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Parts of the following states are also subject to pre-clearance:

  • California
  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • South Dakota

Section Five was necessary because of the purpose or intent in some areas to dilute or weaken the strength of minority voters. They did this by changing electoral rules such that minorities had decreased opportunities to elect someone of their choice. Additionally, Section 5 considers the effect of a proposed change. The U.S. attorney general or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia considers whether the proposed change will lead to a worsening of the position of minority voters, an effect known as “retrogression.”

In 1975 an important amendment was added to the VRA to include rights for language minorities. These amendments required jurisdictions to provide bilingual ballots and even translation services to those who speak any of the following languages:

  • Spanish
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Native American languages
  • Eskimo languages

Inside Section Two and Section Five