The Unintended Consequences of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

The Unintended Consequences of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act- thumbnailSection 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has preserved racially monolithic congressional districts, protected incumbents, and laid undue burdens on small towns and jurisdictions everywhere, writes Edward Blum in a new AEI Press monograph. Relying on first-hand reporting on the real-world effects of the VRA, The Unintended Consequences of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (November 2007) traces the pernicious effects of a law that no longer serves its original purpose.

The VRA was a landmark law securing voting rights for blacks in the South and other places where they faced restrictions, but it was a landmark in another way as well: "It required every political subdivision targeted by the act to get permission from the federal government before any change to election procedures could take place." The goal of securing voting rights has been achieved, but the VRA has been continuously renewed, even as its original purpose was fulfilled and as Section 5's provisions started to take on noxious characteristics.

By the late 1980s, the use of computer software for redistricting, the suburbanization of U.S. minority populations, and a twist in Supreme Court case law led to the use of the VRA to mandate race-based gerrymandering, uncompetitive elections, and ideologically driven enforcement by the Justice Department. Blum's case studies are Arizona's stymied bipartisan redistricting commission and Texas's 2003 redistricting uproar. In these cases, the VRA hindered competitive and colorblind elections. Blum also describes the badgering of two small southern towns by the Justice Department under the VRA's auspices.

Section 5 "has degenerated into an unworkable, unfair, and unconstitutional mandate that is bad for our two political parties, bad for race relations, and bad for our body politic," Blum writes. "I hope these stories . . . highlight how Section 5 has been used by both political parties to reduce minority voters into little more than pawns in partisan redistricting battles."

For more information about this book, visit www.aei.org/book916/.

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