Category Archives: Elections

50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics

Source: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers, and Ismail White, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2015

From the summary:
… The report is critical to understanding the impact of the Act and the future of voting rights. The report provides data on minority voter turnout, racially polarized voting, policy outcomes by race, and the number of minority elected officials from the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 until today. ….

Key findings:
– The black/white racial gap in voter turnout has decreased dramatically in presidential elections since 1965.
– Local election turnout is generally less than half of presidential general election turnout. As overall turnout declines in local elections, the electorate may become less diverse.
– Turnout rates among both Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans in presidential elections remain 15 to 20 points below white Americans.
– Since 1960, the party identification and partisan voting patterns of blacks and whites have become sharply divided.
– In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education, political ideology, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, and political ideology.
– Based on available data from 1972 to 2010, blacks were the least successful group in America in terms of policy outcomes.
– Since 1965, the number of elected officials of color has grown enormously, but people of color remain underrepresented in elected office.

Voter Registration

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, September 10, 2015

In 49 states, an eligible citizen must be registered to vote. North Dakota does not require voter registration ahead of an election—eligible citizens can simply appear at the polls with required identification and be permitted to vote. In 2015, Oregon passed “automatic voter registration,” a system that automatically registers all eligible voters who are in the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Voters do not need to take any action to register, but they can “opt out” of being on the registered voter list. See NCSL’s blog post on Oregon’s law. ….

Table of Contents:
Register at the Local Elections Office
Register at the DMV
Online Voter Registration
Same Day Registration
Statewide Voter Registration Databases
Maintaining the Voter List
Additional Resources

Why Voting Matters: Large Disparities in Turnout Benefit the Donor Class

Source: Sean McElwee, Dēmos, 2015

From the summary:
….One important consequence of this legacy and continuing evolution of voting restrictions is unequal voter turnout in elections, with white Americans, and particularly affluent white Americans, out-participating people of color, low-income people, and young people by significant-to-wide margins. As a result, large numbers of lesser-advantaged Americans are left out of the democratic process: in 2012, 26 million eligible voters of color did not vote, and, among eligible voters earning less than $50,000, 47 million did not vote. In 2014, 44 million eligible voters of color did not vote, and 66 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 did not vote.

These voter “turnout gaps” or voting inequalities are well-known among experts who study American democracy, but, in the following explainer, we argue that such voting inequality is underestimated in its social impact and in the larger policy debates about the direction of our country. More specifically, while it is obvious to many why the turnout gaps matter for democracy, it is less obvious why closing the turnout gaps and creating a more fully inclusive democracy matters for the policy decisions and social outcomes that should be the fruit of our democracy.

We aim to help clarify one important reason why this is so by examining how the turnout gaps reflect not only differences in power and privilege but also striking differences in policy views and ideology. At the core of this problem, we see that people in the under-voting groups tend to be more or substantially more in favor of progressive economic policies and government intervention in the economy compared to more affluent voters and particularly more affluent white voters. While money in politics is increasingly a focal point for explaining why the US policy landscape leans so heavily to the right compared to those of other wealthy democracies, the data we look at here suggest that our country’s cumulative voter turnout gaps—historic and contemporary—are also an important factor in the growing misalignment of public policy with the concerns and needs of working-class and low-income people, particularly in communities of color…..
If Anyone Ever Tells You Your Vote Doesn’t Matter, Show Them This
Source: Sean McElwee, Policy Mic, September 15, 2015
voter turnout varies widely across races and age groups

younger nonvoters are much more likely than older voters to have a progressive view of the role of government

increasing registration is one of the best ways to increase voter turnout among young people

Forget Congress: Reforming Campaign Finance Through Mutually Assured Destruction

Source: Nicholas Warshaw, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 15-09, June 22, 2015

From the abstract:
Congress will not enact meaningful campaign finance reform. Under the nation’s current legislative, regulatory, and judicial regimes, remedies to the problem of money in politics appear unattainable. This Comment provides an entirely novel and viable approach towards reducing the corrosive influence of outside money on the nation’s governance. Aided by the power of the profit motive, this Comment proposes the creation of a new non-partisan private entity, Super PAC Insurance, to help solve this vexing problem. Such a company will have one central goal: deterring third-party outside Super PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations from spending money. The Comment details the mechanics of Super PAC Insurance, addresses its legality, and proposes several variations on the basic model.

Super PAC Insurance, creates a disincentive to outside political spending by applying the principle of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” As was demonstrated in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race, when Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott Brown took The People’s Pledge, adding costs to Super PACs’ spending decisions effectively deters outside spending. Similarly, if a Super PAC knows its spending will trigger a barrage of spending against their preferred candidate from an insurance entity, they should be less likely to spend against an insured candidate; which in turn should reduce the influence of money in politics writ large.

In the wake of Citizens United and its progeny, American political spending has skyrocketed out of control. Rather than produce despondency though amongst reformers, this reality must catalyze innovation. The enclosed Comment offers a workable path forward beyond government paralysis; a non-state based solution to reducing the influence of outside money in politics.

Who’s Calling the Shots in State Politics? Corporations playing politics with ballot measures

Source: Liz Essley Whyte, Center for Public Integrity, September 2, 2015

….The Center for Public Integrity reviewed 55 publicly traded companies and top corporate givers to ballot measures and found nine instances of curious positions — positions taken even when the companies’ policies emphasize their business interests as the overriding criteria in doling out political contributions. The areas of interest were fairly diverse, but most seemed to focus on social issues or were aimed at fundamental changes to how state government operates….

….Some of the contributions that don’t line up with company policy appear to be aimed at building corporate political clout in the states. Companies are keen to make governors and legislatures as friendly as possible to business, according to Paul Kelly, a board member of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, which represents lobbyists. Sometimes that means contributing to issues that control how those politicians are elected…..

The Racial Equity Impact of Secret Political Spending by Government Contractors

Source: Naila Awan & Liz Kennedy, Dēmos, 2015

From the summary:
….Many have called for measures that would pull back the curtain on corporate political spending. Greater transparency of such spending is particularly needed with respect to government contractors, who are given taxpayer dollars to do the people’s business. These contractors often turn around and engage in political spending to influence policies that preserve their profits at the public’s expense, or affect contracting decisions. Government contractors often heavily advocate for, and profit when the federal government adopts, policies that disproportionately harm people of color and other traditionally disenfranchised populations. An executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending would help the public hold government contractors accountable for political spending that benefits their bottom lines while entrenching structural racism in our country…..

Race, Federalism, and Voting Rights

Source: Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Luis E. Fuentes-Rohwer, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2015-24, May 28, 2015

From the abstract:
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court struck down an important provision of the Voting Rights Act, section 4, on federalism grounds. The Court argued that Congress no longer had the power to enact section 4 because of the “federalism costs” imposed by the Act and because the Act violated “basic principles” of federalism. Unfortunately, the Court failed to articulate the costs to federalism imposed by the Act, much less conduct a cost-benefit analysis in order to determine whether the benefits of the Act outweighed its costs. Moreover, the Court failed to discuss whether the Reconstruction Amendments ought to matter at all to the federalism debate. In this Essay, we ask three basic questions in response to Shelby County. First, what does the Court mean by “federalism costs,” and why have these costs undermined the constitutionality of the VRA? Second, does the failure to discuss Reconstruction and the Reconstruction Amendments undermine the Court’s decision in Shelby County? And third, we ask how should we understand the utility of federalism in the context of race and voting. We suggest that if one purpose of federalism is that it enables minorities to engage in self-rule, we should ask whether federalism enables racial minorities to engage in self-rule.

Voting Rights at 50

Source: Samuel Issacharoff, New York University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-26, July 23, 2015

From the abstract:
The fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act comes at a difficult juncture. The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County dismantled the core preclearance provisions of what had been the most successful civil rights law in American history. At the same time, the right to cast a ballot free of unnecessary legal encumbrances is more contested than it has been in generations. Yet, the story is more complex. The landscape of voter discrimination today bears little resemblance to the formalized Jim Crow barriers to the black franchise. Even before Shelby County, the Voting Rights Act struggled to keep up with the new voting challenges, which have evolved from exclusively Southern obstacles defined by race to nationwide electoral modifications with at best limited evidence of direct racial motivation. The narrow geographic confines of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act were largely supplanted by other legal protections of the right to vote, well before Shelby County.

This Article turns to other legal tools that have been invoked since 1965 to address voting claims outside the purview of Section 5. The claim is that more generalized protection of the franchise can better respond to the more fact-laden challenges presented by more contemporary voting rights claims. The Article draws on personal experiences with four voting cases that rely on tools ranging from Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to the Constitution to the common law to address claims that fall outside the domain of Section 5. These cases illustrate the way in which a more general framework for voting rights protection can be used to tackle electoral schemes that were neither subject to Section 5’s technical scrutiny, nor were Southern, racially specific, or even institutional in nature.