“Why Conservatives Should Back State Voting Rights Acts”

Chris Elmendorf at City Journal:

Now comes a new threat, or so it may seem: the state VRA. Much as states in the 1970s copied and extended federal environmental laws, left-leaning states such as CaliforniaWashington, and Oregon are enacting their own versions of the Voting Rights Act, filling gaps and patching the weaknesses of the federal law. A particularly audacious bill is pending in New York.

Yet conservatives should see state VRAs not as a threat but as an opportunity. The state VRA is—or rather, can be—a statutory lever to accomplish a variety of worthy goals, including dismantling off-cycle elections, which grossly amplify the political power of public-sector unions and antidevelopment homeowners; negating the most objectionable feature of the federal VRA, namely, its privileging of single-member-district elections; and even providing conservative and moderate voters with meaningful opportunities to elect candidates of their choice to city councils now dominated by the left and further left. Further, conservative state legislators, even in deep-blue coastal states, have a real opportunity to shape state VRAs because the agenda behind them exposes fissures within the Democratic coalition.

The conservative case for state VRAs is not merely opportunistic, moreover. Backing these laws is also a way for conservatives to build bridges to minority communities and to channel political competition toward the persuasion of voters (as opposed to gerrymandering of districts or selective mobilization or demobilization of narrow factions within the electorate). American democracy will be more stable in the long run if the electorate picks its politicians rather than the other way round.


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