WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifty-three years ago, the Voting Rights Act made racial discrimination in the voting process illegal.

But the legacy of the landmark legislation and how it should be interpreted still an issue of great debate.

  • Interpretations of Voting Rights Act still debated
  • Activists push for 'preclearance' provision to be restored
  • Requires states to get federal approval before changing its voting laws

As we mark the anniversary of  the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a lawyer with Asian Americans Advancing Justice is part of a growing activist movement pushing Congress to restore a piece of it struck down by the high court in 2013.

“It had been something that had been working to help contain discrimination, particularly in those jurisdictions that had been bad actors in the past,” said Terry Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The “preclearance” provision -- or Section 5 -- required certain states to get approval from the federal government before making changes to local voting laws.

Minnis says it is still needed in 2018.

“As communities population starts to grow in numbers and grown in numbers where they could make a political difference, that’s when certain types of discriminatory practices and schemes come out to try to silence that particular community,” Minnis said.

There are many supporters of the change to the Voting Rights Act. They argue Section 5 was outdated and believe the best way to honor voting rights is to increase Voter ID laws.

“If you look at turn out in southern states that were covered under section 5 today, not only is the turnout and registration of African Americans on par with White voters, in some of the states it is actually higher,” said Hans von Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow.

Von Spakovsky was handpicked to serve on President Trump’s now disbanded Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

“We want to make sure everyone who is eligible is able to vote, but if people move out of state, if they die, then obviously they need to be taken off of the voter rolls,” said von Spakovsky.

“These are schemes to suppress the vote, whether that’s Voter ID, whether that’s shortening early day voting, particularly to days where you know that communities of color have used them to mobilize their members to participate. These are all efforts to make sure that a certain portion of the electorate are not able to easily vote,” Minnis said.

AAJC has a voter hotline that runs year round and says they will continue to fight discrimination.

AAJC says there is a 15-20 percent gap between the voter registration rates and voter turnout rates for Asian Americans as compared to non-Hispanic whites.