Viral Voter Suppression
49 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2021 Last revised: 1 Jun 2021
Date Written: March 1, 2021
While data about racial disparities in health has traditionally played only a very limited role in assessing how voting rules affect the voting rights of racial minorities, the COVID-19 voter experience has powerfully exposed how those disparities undermine minority voice and voting power not just during pandemics, but in every election. Empirical evidence generated by our novel COVID-19 Vulnerability Index demonstrates that politicians leveraged health disparities, rooted in the subordination of racial minorities, to suppress the vote of racial minorities in the 2020 general election and to further entrench racial inequity in voting.
This evidence arrives at a critical juncture for the Voting Rights Act, which has been stripped of much of its bite by the Supreme Court and is currently being debated by Congress. A new focus on the disparate health effects of voting rules, grounded in the kind of solid empirical evidence we provide, could reinvigorate the VRA—providing new avenues for assessing voting rights, for litigating and judging voter suppression claims under Section 2, and even informing a new coverage formula to resurrect Section 5. The clear and compelling story told by our data are a clarion call to legislators, courts, and litigators to reconceptualize and strengthen voting rights by accounting for the barriers that health disparities pose to minority access to the ballot.
Keywords: voter suppression, COVID-19, empirical analysis, race discrimination, voting rights act, public health
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