Expanding Voter Rights: The Voting Rights Act, 1965 and beyond
Objectives Activities will help students: Explain why the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act evaluate the impact of the Voting Rights Act Explain current challenges to the Voting Rights Act Understand new threats to voting rights Explore how to protect voting rights, with particular emphasis on the state where they live
Expanding Voting Rights:
The Voting Rights Act, 1965 and Beyond
Lesson plan developed by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center
Videos produced by NBC News
This lesson is the third in a series called Expanding Voting Rights. The overall goal of the series is for students to explore the complicated history of voting rights in this country. Two characteristics of that history stand out: First, in fits and starts, more and more Americans have gained the right to vote; and second, the federal government has played an increasing role over time in securing these rights.
This lesson focuses on the 1965 law that aimed to ensure that African Americans would no longer be denied their right to vote. Students will read a summary of the Voting Rights Act to find out what it said, then study data that show the law’s impact. They watch two NBC news reports about a 2009 Supreme Court challenge to the Voting Rights Act and the Court’s ruling on that challenge. The lesson has them consider the grounds on which people have based their objections to the Voting Rights Act.
Coming up to the present, students study graphs that show the potential effects of efforts to curtail voting rights—specifically photo ID requirements and “matching” requirements. Finally, students explore efforts in their own states to limit voter participation and how to counter those efforts, or the success of efforts in their area to increase voter registration and participation.
Activities will help students:
- explain why the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act
- evaluate the impact of the Voting Rights Act
- explain current challenges to the Voting Rights Act
- understand new threats to voting rights
- explore how to protect voting rights, with particular emphasis on the state where they live
- What did the Voting Rights Act of 1965 say?
- Why was the Voting Rights Act necessary? What effects has it had?
- Why have some people challenged the Voting Rights Act in recent years?
- How are voting rights threatened today? How can we protect those rights?
(noun) the right to vote
(noun) the act of depriving someone of the right to vote
(verb) to deprive; to limit
voter registration [voh-ter rej-uh-strey-shuhn]
(noun) an action taken by an eligible voter to have her voting qualification verified (usually at the county level) so that he can vote in elections
The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States by Alexander Keyssar
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (U.S. Department of Justice website)
Voting Rights and Elections (The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law)
NBC Learn video: "Signing the Voting Rights Act"
NBC Learn video: "The Right to Vote"
NBC Learn video: "Supreme Court Re-Examines 1965 Voting Rights Act"
NBC Learn video: "Supreme Court Narrowly Allows 1965 Voting Rights Act to Stand"
What the Voting Rights Act Said
1. Watch a short NBC news clip from1965 that reports on then-President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. Seeing the video will bring you to the starting point of this lesson, an examination of that 1965 law.
2. In 1965, the United States enacted the Voting Rights Act. It laid out strict rules that would enable African Americans to exercise their right to vote, particularly in Southern states that had created significant barriers to prevent them from doing do. (Note: If your students have not completed Lesson 2 in this series, you can provide some background on the Voting Rights Act by having them watch this 14-minute video from the NBC Learn archives.) To learn what the Voting Rights Act said, read the handout The Voting Rights Act of 1965. When you’ve read it, write a few sentences to explain what barriers to voting the new law banned, and why the law was necessary.
The Effects of the Voting Rights Act
3. The Voting Rights Act had both immediate and long-term effects. Look at the graphics Percentage of Registered Voters in Black Voting-Age Population: 1960, 1971, 2008 and the Number of Black Legislators in the South (1868-1900 and 1960-1992) handouts.
a. Complete the activities on each handout to help you understand the data.
b. Summarize the effects that the Voting Rights Act has had. Would you say it has been successful? Why or why not?
Challenges to the Voting Rights Act
4. The Voting Rights Act was reauthorized in 1970, 1965, 1982 and 2006. In each instance, Congress looked at evidence that showed that African Americans’ voting rights were still in danger in the states identified in the original 1965 law. In 2009, the Voting Rights Act faced a challenge in the Supreme Court.
a. Watch these two NBC Learn videos about that challenge: "Supreme Court Re-Examines 1965 Voting Rights Act" and "Supreme Court Narrowly Allows 1965 Voting Rights Act to Stand." As you watch, make notes about why the law was challenged. On what grounds was it challenged? Why did the Supreme Court uphold the law? With what reservations?
b. Think about which, if any of those reasons for challenging the law you think are legitimate. Share your thinking with your partner. (Note: Randomly call on pairs to share their thinking with the class.) As a class, reach a consensus about the challenges to the Voting Rights Act.
Current Challenges to Voting Rights
5. As you know, civil rights activists struggled and sacrificed for a long time to push the federal government to take action to ensure that African Americans could exercise their right to vote. Recently new roadblocks have arisen that many people think threaten the hard-earned successes of the civil rights movement. In many states, new restrictions have been enacted for the stated reason of combating voter fraud. In reality, instances of voting fraud are nearly non-existent. The new restrictions actually threaten the voting rights of African Americans and Latinos, as well as young voters and low-income people.
With a small group, analyze the two graphs. Discuss these questions: What does each graph show about who is or would be most affected by the new law or proposed new law? What conclusions can you draw when you look at both graphs together? Compare the data in these graphs with what you know about how African Americans in the South were prevented from voting in the century between Reconstruction and the civil rights movement. Make a chart that shows the similarities and differences.
6. Divide the class into groups. Assign each group one of the following current efforts to limit voter registration: end of same-day voter registration, end of “motor voter” registration, residency requirements that affect college students. With your group, research the challenge you have been assigned. Make a poster presenting what you have learned. In your poster, explain what your group’s challenge has in common with techniques that have been used in the past to limit access to voting. Do you think these new efforts could be challenged on the basis of the Voting Rights Act? Why or why not?
Voting Rights in Your State: What Can You Do?
7. What’s happening in your state regarding voting rights? Are there any attempts to limit voting rights? Do some research to find out. If you find that there are, find out who is fighting to maintain or expand voting rights and how they are doing so. Invite someone to speak with your class about those efforts. Find out what your class can do to participate, then do it.
8. Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society
14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
15. Understands how the United States Constitution grants and distributes power and responsibilities to national and state government and how it seeks to prevent the abuse of power
United States History
29. Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
31. Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States
Common Core Standards: College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.