Voting Rights

The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.
— U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren,
Reynolds v. Sims (1964)

Voting Rights & Election Law

The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965. It outlawed the worst of the Jim Crow laws, such as literacy tests and other devices that kept African Americans out of the voting booth. Gradually, through court decisions and Congressional amendments, other efforts to limit voting rights, faced by people of color, fell by the wayside.

In 1993 the tide shifted ominously when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shaw v. Reno. The Court struck down as unconstitutional a Congressional reapportionment plan that resulted in African American majority voting districts in North Carolina. Since Shaw, the Court has continued to chip away at voting rights. Today, the hard won gains of African Americans and other minorities are in danger of being extinguished.

ACLU is working to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. To read more go to ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Initiative Reform in Oregon

The ACLU of Oregon has been active in election law. We have worked to preserve rights guaranteed in the Oregon Constitution through court challenges and by participating in initiative and ballot measure campaigns.

Oregon has an active initiative process that allows voters to change both state law and the state constitution. The ACLU of Oregon has led the way in Oregon courts in preserving the Oregon Constitution’s initiative process. For instance, in the ACLU case of Armatta v.Kitzhaber the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that amendments to the Oregon constitution be voted on separately, so that voters can pick and choose which changes they want, rather than being forced to accept or reject many changes in one measure.

The ACLU of Oregon works on all aspects of ballot measures that would impact civil liberties, including filing comments on initiative petitions, working on ballot measure campaigns, and engaging in pre and post-election challenges.


Kerr v. Bradbury

January 2005 - The third time’s the charm. For the past three election cycles, beginning in 1998, the Oregon Citizens Alliance filed its so-called “Student Protection Act” initiative petition to proscribe how public schools must teach about homosexuality (only in negative or neutral terms, positive or supportive terms would be prohibited).



YOU DECIDE on Measure 90 - Top Two Primary (2014)

Measure 90 (the “top-two primary” measure) raises two civil liberties interests: meaningful access to the ballot for minority party and independent candidates and voters, and the right of association for political parties. Because of the competing civil liberties interests raised by the top-two primary, the ACLU of Oregon is neutral* on the measure and encourages voters to carefully examine arguments on both sides in order to make an informed decision as to their vote.


Voting Rights: ACLU Endorses Gresham Ballot Measure 26-141 (2012)

In addition to making choices about elected leaders and statewide issues, voters in Gresham will have the opportunity this November to make a decision on an important voting rights issue: should the Gresham City Council return to a system of district elections?  In 1986 the Gresham voters chose to replace its district elections system with at-large elections, which is the system that exists today.  Gresham Ballot Measure 26-141 would preserve the at-large election of the mayor, but would require Gresham City Council members to reside in and be elected from one of six council districts.

Because at-large elections too often dilute minority voting strength or obstruct the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choice, the ACLU of Oregon supports Measure 26-141 and urges Gresham voters to vote YES.