Addressing Minority Vote Dilution Through State Voting Rights Acts

Source: Paige A. Epstein, University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 474, February 1, 2014

From the abstract:
Passed largely to address the problem of vote dilution and racially polarized voting, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) bans racial discrimination in voting practices by federal, state, and local governments. While the VRA has been successful in many respects, several large gaps remain. In an effort to narrow some of the gaps left by the federal VRA, four states have enacted or proposed individual state-VRAs or functional equivalents (herein referred to as individual state-VRAs).

In this paper, I seek to explore how these states have attempted to use individual VRAs — and how successful they have been — in closing the gaps in coverage existing under the federal VRA. For each of the four enacted or proposed VRAs, I explore the background of the legislation, followed by an analysis of how the legislation operates. For California, Illinois, and Florida — the three states with enacted individual state-VRAs — I then examine how successful the legislation has been in increasing minority representation, and how it can be strengthened to further the state’s goals. Since Washington’s VRA has yet to become law, I explore the background, followed by an analysis of the proposed legislation. I conclude by assessing which individual state-VRAs — or aspects thereof — are best suited to serve as models for the forty-six other states without such legislation.

I find that all four state-VRAs are ultimately successful insofar as they expand protection against minority vote dilution beyond that which is afforded to minority voters under the federal VRA. However, the level of success varies by state plan.