“This is What Nine Years Without the Voting Rights Act Looks Like”

Ryan Suto at FairVote:

Without the protection of the Act, shredded by the Court in 2013, 21 states enacted new voting restrictions ahead of the 2016 election, and since the 2020 election at least 18 states have passed new restrictive voting laws. In a recently published peer-reviewed article, Michael Barber and John Holbein described what they call “turnout deserts” or geographic areas where voter turnout is significantly lower than the rest of the country. They analyzed extensive voting records to find that, “minority citizens are much less likely to vote than White citizens” and they further found, “evidence of the geographic dispersion of political inequality at such a fine micro level and… provide[d] evidence of areas in the United States where turnout is strikingly low and unequal.” In fact, Black voters were found to be over 3 times more likely to live in a voter turnout desert precinct than white voters. 

In 2013, Chief Justice Roberts noted that after successive re-authorizations of the VRA, “the States of Alaska, Arizona, and Texas, as well as several counties in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota, became covered jurisdictions,” seemingly lamenting legislative overreach. Nine years later, Barber and Holbein found, “California, Arizona, and Texas stand out as states with many counties where a large fraction of precincts have remarkably low turnout rates. Counties with high proportions of turnout desert precincts also appear more frequently in the Appalachian region and in the Great Lakes states of Michigan and Wisconsin.” While not exact, the overlap of the areas covered by Section 4(b) of the VRA up until 2013 and the areas found by researchers in 2022 to have the lowest voter turnout is remarkable. 

The Supreme Court assumed that the country will, by destiny, eventually right itself from discrimination. The majority maintained the usefulness of Section 2 of the VRA in fighting remaining discrimination, but otherwise did not acknowledge that regression could occur. Indeed, the sidelining of the VRA as a bulwark against state and local governments enacting discriminatory voting laws should itself be understood as reversed civic progress. In the nine years since the decision, the United States has arguably seen more racially regressive voting laws and court decisions than those handed down between the passage of the VRA and the Shelby County decision. And now, our current state of voting rights signifies a broader antagonism toward proactive attempts at racial equality in our society. This is precisely the opposite direction of movement in equality and fairness that Hegelian thought would predict and that the Supreme Court assumed. 

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