Study: More Voter Suppression Laws Are Proposed When More Racial Minorities Vote


States where more minorities turn out to vote are more likely to pass vote-suppressing laws, according to an analysis published by the American Political Science Association last week. These findings fly in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion gutting key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, in which Chief Justice John Roberts asserted that race-based disenfranchisement was a thing of the past.

The study, conducted by University of Massachusetts Boston professors Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien, examined restrictive voting laws proposed between 2006 and 2011. That included voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, voter registration limits, early voting and absentee voting restrictions, and restrictions on felons’ voting rights. They found that “the more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed.”

voting suppress map

CREDIT: Perspectives on Politics

The perception of voter fraud had some impact on states, but far less than racial and class considerations. Besides voter turnout, states with large African American populations and more low-income voters were also more likely to pass laws restricting voting in 2011, the heydey of election law changes. Republican leadership also made states more likely to pass vote-suppressing laws.

The researchers also identified a recent intensification of voter suppression efforts in the past few years, chalking it up to “changing demographics; recent Republican electoral losses; an unforgiving internal shift within the party to the ideological right; and the party faithful’s response to vote fraud mythology.”

In his decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Chief Justice Roberts dismissed the idea that election law was still being used to engage in widespread, systematic discrimination against minorities. “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” he wrote.

Without the Voting Rights Act’s protections, this trend in minority-heavy Republican-led states is likely to get worse. After the Supreme Court’s decision, several states immediately moved to restrict voting in the name of combating voter fraud, a phenomenon proven many times over to be virtually nonexistent. The states leading this charge — Arizona, Texas, and Florida — have seen massive growth in their non-white communities over the past few years, and are on track to become “majority-minority” in the next decade or so.