After collecting and analyzing extensive data on the state of voting rights in jurisdictions covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we conclude that there is no longer sufficient justification for the preclearance mandate. Greatly increased minority voter registration rates, minority voter turnout rates, and number of minority elected officials all indicate that the aim of the act has been fulfilled--voting rights and representation for minorities have solidified and section 5 should be allowed to expire.
Introduction to the Studies
In anticipation of congressional hearings on the reauthorization of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2007, the Project on Fair Representation at the American Enterprise Institute, led by Visiting Fellow Edward Blum, commissioned two social scientists to gather data on the state of minority participation in the election process in the jurisdictions covered by the statute.
The authors of these studies, Ronald Keith Gaddie, Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma and Charles Bullock III, Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, have produced extensive voting behavior scholarship in addition to acting as expert witnesses in dozens of voting rights cases throughout the country.
Section 5 of the VRA requires all of nine states and parts of seven others to seek permission--or, "preclearance"--from the United States Attorney General or from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before any election practices or procedures can be changed. The states fully covered by section 5 are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Also covered are various townships and counties in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.
The Bullock-Gaddie studies analyze all of the covered jurisdictions in the fully- and partially-covered states. For the purposes of comparison, Bullock and Gaddie also analyze the voting behavior of three states and one city not covered by section 5: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The studies examine a variety of election criteria, including:
- Black and Hispanic voter registration rates.
- Black and Hispanic election turnout rates.
- Success and failure of black and Hispanic candidates.
- White cross-over support for minority candidates.
- Racial polarization levels using three different methodologies.
Although the trends in minority election criteria vary from state to state, the data makes quite clear that (a) there is no crisis in minority voting rights in 2006 compared to what there was in 1965 when the act was passed or in subsequent years when additional jurisdictions were added; and (b) there is no quantifiable difference in the voting rights exercised by minorities in covered jurisdictions than in non-covered jurisdictions. Moreover, many of the minority electoral criteria we studied indicate that the covered jurisdictions often afford greater opportunity to blacks and Hispanics than many jurisdictions not covered by Section 5.
Edward Blum is a visiting fellow at AEI. Lauren Campbell is a research assistant at AEI.