It has long been conventional wisdom that having more people vote is good for Democrats while having fewer people vote is good for Republicans. How strong the empirical basis for this belief is is not clear but that seems to no longer matter because the Republican party especially is committed to this idea and Donald Trump’s loss has just cemented it further. As a result, Republican controlled legislatures across the country are changing rules and enacting laws that make voting harder. In particular, they are taking measures that are targeted towards making voting more difficult in areas that are predominantly minority.
They were given the freedom to do this by a 2013 US Supreme Court ruling Shelby County vs. Holder, the Supreme Court decision that overturned section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that required states that had a history of having Jim Crow laws that limited minority voting to have any changes pre-cleared by the department of justice. The 5-4 majority argued that essentially Jim Crow was over and thus states did not need this kind of monitoring anymore. That led to a rush to enact such laws.
Kevin Drum writes that new research suggests that the evidence of the effectiveness of this strategy is weak.
What you’d expect is that in states that previously required preclearance two things would happen. First, they’d rush to pass laws designed to affect Black voting. That happened just as you’d think. Second, Black turnout would therefore decline compared to white turnout. That didn’t happen.
In other words, Black turnout relative to white turnout improved more in Shelby states than in non-Shelby states. All the effort that the Shelby states put into changing their voting laws didn’t help them. In fact, it backfired.
This was just one study but if it holds up, the question is why this Black voter suppression strategy did not work. One reason may be that grass roots organizers in these states were galvanized to increase their efforts at getting voters registered and go to the polls. Another possible reason is that if the attempts at voter suppression are too blatant, that might breed a determination to vote by those angered at the effort to disenfranchise them.
Whatever might be happening, it shows the importance of local efforts at getting people to vote. It seems like that was key in getting a record number of people to the polls in the 2020 elections.