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Increasing the Quantity and the Quality of the African-American Vote: Lessons for 2008 and Beyond


Franita Tolson


Florida State University - College of Law

April 22, 2008

Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy, Vol. 10, p. 313, 2008
FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 354

Abstract:     
Elections for state and congressional representatives are often referendums on the national presidential election, and African-Americans have, at times, been the swing vote in these contests. The time is ripe to revisit the potential that African-Americans have to be politically influential and increase the responsiveness of state and national elected officials to their discrete interests. For too long, court intervention in redistricting disputes has proven to be a risky venture for African-Americans, the long-term effects of which will become even more pertinent as we approach the 2008 presidential election. This historic election, in which the Democratic nominee for president will be either an African-American man or a woman, raises an important question: what is the best way to increase the quality and the quantity of the African-American vote so that they can influence not only the election of 2008, but future elections as well? Simply put, what is the best way to maximize the representation of African-American interests nationally? The solution to this quandary involves two related concepts: first, employing court intervention under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in order to force state legislatures to create majority-minority districts. And second, whether this strategy reduces the ability of African-Americans to influence national elections. The article argues that the focus of the African-American community should not be on increasing the number of majority-minority districts; rather, the focus should be on increasing voter turnout in these districts. There is some evidence that these districts have the effect of depressing voter turnout, which can have national implications if the majority-minority districts are located in swing states. Moreover, increasing the number of majority-minority districts tends to result in more court oversight of the political process, which can lead to less substantive representation of minority interests overall.

This article proceeds in two parts. Part I makes the case that African-Americans should rely less on the courts to increase their political power given that recent court decisions certainly do not ensure more favorable outcomes. Specifically, this section focuses on the strategic behavior of elected officials, the Supreme Court's decision in LULAC v. Perry, and how both tie in to the instant proposal that African-Americans should focus on political mobilization to increase their electoral strength and the subsequent accountability of elected officials. LULAC illustrates that the Court has made a false distinction between race and political affiliation, which undermines any gains that minorities hope to make in increasing their substantive representation in the political process.

Part II discusses extra-judicial proposals for increasing African-American political strength, specifically by focusing on majority-minority districts in Florida and Ohio, which were swing states in the last two presidential elections. This section concludes that coalition building and political mobilization are the best ways to increase voter turnout in these districts, which will have a greater impact on increasing the responsiveness of elected officials to the interests of African-Americans nationwide than lobbying the courts for change.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: voting rights, Section 2, majority-minority districts, presidential election, voter identification laws

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Date posted: August 26, 2008 ; Last revised: March 30, 2009

Suggested Citation

Tolson, Franita, Increasing the Quantity and the Quality of the African-American Vote: Lessons for 2008 and Beyond (April 22, 2008). Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy, Vol. 10, p. 313, 2008; FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 354. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1252262

Contact Information

Franita Tolson (Contact Author)
Florida State University - College of Law ( email )
425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States
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