Reflecting on this year’s stormy presidential election—the never-ending scandals, the allegations that the leading candidates are evil criminals, the talk of vote-rigging and suspense over a peaceful transfer of power, the specter of the Russians orchestrating it all—one former U.S. diplomat argued that the perception of American democracy has taken a hit. People around the world “don’t expect that from the United States,” Nicholas Burns told The New York Times. “We are the people who go and monitor other people’s elections.”
This year, the election observers are coming to America. The Organization of American States (OAS), a bloc of 35 countries in the Americas, is sending its first-ever mission to observe a U.S. election; on Tuesday, 41 OAS officials will fan out to 12 U.S. states. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a grouping of 57 North American, European, and Asian nations, is deploying 437 election observers—nearly eight times the number it dispatched for the 2012 U.S. presidential election—across more than 30 U.S. states.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured voting rights for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
The Act contains numerous provisions that regulate election administration. The Act’s “general provisions” provide nationwide protections for voting rights. Section 2 is a general provision that prohibits every state and local government from imposing any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities. Other general provisions specifically outlaw literacy tests and similar devices that were historically used to disenfranchise racial minorities.
The Act also contains “special provisions” that apply to only certain jurisdictions. A core special provision is the Section 5 preclearance requirement, which prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities. Another special provision requires jurisdictions containing significant language minority populations to provide bilingual ballots and other election materials.