How effective are voting restrictions in restricting voting?

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.


  1. DonDueed says

    This is my only hope for the Democrats holding the Senate and (possibly) the House in 2022 — that the efforts at disenfranchisement backfire.

  2. jrkrideau says

    The amazing thing to a foreigner, such as myself, is the amazing mind-boggling and blatant attempts to corrupt pervert the electoral process in the USA.

    A country that coined the term “gerrymander” ….

  3. prl says

    Where I live:
    Electoral enrolment:

    Every person who is entitled to have his or her name placed on the Roll for any Subdivision whether by way of enrolment or transfer of enrolment, and whose name is not on the Roll upon the expiration of 21 days from the date upon which the person became so entitled, or at any subsequent date while the person continues to be so entitled, commits an offence unless he or she proves that the non‑enrolment is not in consequence of his or her failure to send or deliver to the Electoral Commissioner, a claim, duly filled in and signed in accordance with the directions printed thereon.


    It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election.

    An elector commits an offence if the elector fails to vote at an election.

    The penalty is a fine of AUD 20 (~USD 15).


    … all persons:
    (a) who have attained 18 years of age; and
    (b) who are:
    (i) Australian citizens; or

    shall be entitled to enrolment.


    A person who:
    (a) by reason of being of unsound mind, is incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting; or
    (b) has been convicted of treason or treachery and has not been pardoned;
    is not entitled to have his or her name placed or retained on any Roll or to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election.

    A person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment of 3 years or longer is not entitled to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election.

    All this is Federal law and applies across Federal elections no matter which state the voter is registered in.

    Federal electoral boundaries are set by the same independent authority that administers Federal elections.

  4. Ridana says

    Since these states are also enacting laws that allow the legislature to discard the results of the vote if they don’t like them, voter turnout won’t mean a whole lot. Or anything at all, really.

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