On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Congress passed this hallmark legislation during a period of civil rights turmoil nationally, particularly the civil rights of African Americans. In spite of existing laws to protect voting rights, discriminatory election practices existed in many parts of the country, including poll taxes and literacy tests. The effect was that many African Americans were prevented from exercising their right to vote.
Congress has reauthorized the act twice since then. The 1975 reauthorization, signed by President Gerald Ford, expanded the law to include language minorities. Cities, counties and states with substantial numbers of foreign language voters must now a) translate election materials; b) assist voters in their native languages; and c) have bilingual polling place workers.