Voting Rights: By the Numbers

Updated 5:00 PM EDT, Tue August 6, 2019

Story highlights

5th Amendment to the Constitution addressed voter suppression based on race or color.

19th Amendment to the Constitution addressed voter suppression based on sex.

Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed attacks on civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama.

Supreme Court's 2013 case significantly altered enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted because of voter suppression by state governments, local governments and law enforcement. Over the 54-year period of its existence, it has helped Americans reinforce the citizens right to vote. It addresses the levels of disenfranchisement in existence after ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.

Here is a look at voting rights, by the numbers:

5 – The number of years between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, February 1, 1865, when most forms of legal slavery ended in the United States, and February 3, 1870, when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was added.

15 – The 15th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This applied to men only.

149 – The number of years since the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1870.

19 – The 19th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

99 – The number of years since the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified August 18, 1920, granting women the right to vote nationwide.

50 – The number of years between ratification of the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment, acknowledging the right to vote for both men and women regardless of race.

95 – The number of years of continued voter disenfranchisement based on race following ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

54 – The number of years since “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when non-violent voting rights marchers heading to the state capital of Montgomery, Alabama, were attacked by state troopers in Selma.

8 – The number of days after “Bloody Sunday,” in which President Lyndon Johnson, in a speech before a joint session of Congress, said:

“There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong–deadly wrong–to deny any of your fellow americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of states’ rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.”

5 – The number of months after “Bloody Sunday,” August 6, 1965, that Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law as an “act to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.”

4 – The number of times that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been extended or renewed: In 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006.

4 – The number of years between decisions in the Supreme Court case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder and the case Shelby County v. Holder. Both cases addressed, among other issues, enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act regarding “covered jurisdictions,” but the decisions differed.

5 – Section 5 “was enacted to freeze changes in election practices or procedures in covered jurisdictions until the new procedures have been determined, either after administrative review by the Attorney General, or after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to have neither discriminatory purpose or effect.”

2009 – The year the Supreme Court left the question of “covered jurisdiction” unanswered in the case Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, decided June 22, 2009.

16 – The number of “Covered jurisdictions” that, because of their voting rights history, needed to be pre-cleared prior to making changes to their voting procedures. Included were nine states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia; counties within California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota; and townships in Michigan.

2013 – The year the Supreme Court voted to invalidate a key enforcement provision of Section 5 in the case Shelby County v. Holder, regarding “covered jurisdictions.”

READ MORE: Justices offer split views on Voting Rights Act enforcement.

9 – The number of states that offered briefs in support of Shelby County v. Holder, which questioned the renewal of Section 5: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. A brief in support of retaining “covered jurisdictions” was filed by California, Mississippi, New York and North Carolina.

READ MORE: Discriminatory voter laws have surged in last few years, federal commission finds.