Reclaiming the Vote: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Under the Obama Administration
Darity, Dr. William Jr.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY POLICY QUESTION Given historical accounts of discriminatory tactics directed against African Americans’ voting rights, did the Voting Rights Act of 1965 successfully incorporate African Americans in the policymaking process? BACKGROUND The Voting Rights Act of 1965 attempted to solidify the goals of Reconstruction by addressing the limitations of previous civil rights legislation. The VRA contains two important, yet controversial, provisions that, if removed, would drastically weaken its overall effectiveness. In 2006, President Bush signed the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act. Congress voted overwhelmingly (390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate) to extend the two key provisions of the Voting Rights Act until 2031. Section 2 of the VRA prohibits “voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the minority groups defined by Section 4(f)(2). Section 5 prohibits any “covered” state or jurisdiction from modifying a “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting” without prior clearance of the proposed change through the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This “preclearance” measure was a direct response to the thirteen Southern states that used their legislatures and municipalities to circumvent federal legislation. PROBLEM Modern-day civil rights legislation fails to address structural racism that continues to limit African Americans’ full participation in the policymaking process. This new racism, also referred to as “color-blind” racism and described by leading scholars such as Bonilla-Silva, Michelle Alexander, and Michael Omi and Howard Winant, prevents the enactment of meaningful federal legislation. The myth of color-blindness negates the “problem of racism as a problem of power” and utilizes cultural arguments of inferiority to justify opposition to affirmative action programs. Opponents of the Voting Rights Act point to sections 2 and 5 and the election of Black representatives as evidence that the act is no longer required in a “post-racial” society. They also highlight the high percentage of black voters in Southern states. For example, in Mississippi, only 6.7% of black voters were registered in 1965; by 1988, 74.2% of black voters were registered. The “preclearance” determination is now viewed as “a zero sum game between the political parties” Preclearance is granted only if any change in the covered jurisdictions does not dilute the vote “as compared to the status quo.” “Color-blind” advocates characterize section 5 as political racialization and the affirmation of identity politics as the political norm. “Race-conscious” districting is a result of the true problem: districting. Districting emphasizes winner-take-all representation and can enforce white privilege and power through black vote dilution. Districting rests on two critical assumptions : a group is automatically formed from a majority of voters within a given geographic community, and that incumbent politicians can fairly determine which group to advantage by maximizing its power within that particular district. African American voter disenfranchisement continues in a so-called “post-racial” society, and color-blind federal policies fail to account for structural discrimination. The Voting Rights Act remains under attack by conservatives and a percentage of “progressive” liberals who believe that our nation has moved beyond racial injustice through federal legislation. In contrast, voter data suggests that blacks are not fully incorporated into the policymaking process and that access and full participation have different meanings and outcomes. While voter registration efforts have been successful in the black community, translating into high voter turnout, this does not translate into equal access to the policymaking process. CRITERIA 1. Ensures political feasibility. 2. Protects racial plurality through coalition building. 3. Provides tangible political outcomes to African Americans. 4. Maximizes the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. ALTERNATIVES 1. Implement a non-partisan commission on voting rights issues. 2. Designate a national voting holiday for all registered U.S. voters. 3. Create a comprehensive voter education curriculum for voters residing in “race-conscious” districts. 4. Implement a national proportional representation system. RECOMMENDATIONS 1. Implement a non-partisan commission on voting rights issues. 2. Designate a national voting holiday for all registered U.S. voters. 3. Create a comprehensive voter education curriculum for voters residing in “race-conscious” districts.
DepartmentThe Sanford School of Public Policy
CitationGunn, Lekisha (2013). Reclaiming the Vote: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Under the Obama Administration. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10161/6670.
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Rights for Collection: Sanford School Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program Master’s Projects