Why it’s Becoming Harder to Preserve Power and Influence of Southern Black Voters

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 12: People stand in line to enter the US Supreme Court building, November 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Today the high court will hear oral arguments for cases, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, and Comptroller of Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne.   (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 12: People stand in line to enter the US Supreme Court building, November 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Today the high court will hear oral arguments for cases, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, and Comptroller of Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

There are a few basic rules for the shape of congressional districts. They’re supposed to be contiguous and as compact as possible, for example. They’re supposed to try to preserve other political subdivisions, such as county lines.

But the more difficult part is making sure that districts comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires that district boundaries be drawn to ensure that black voters have electoral influence, even though the boundaries can’t be drawn primarily based on race.

Putting more minority voters into a district gives those voters more political power, but only in that district. So a map that groups too many minority voters into a few districts limits their electoral power by confining it to a small number of districts.

When the Supreme Court decided Georgia v. Ashcroft in 2003, it determined, essentially, that rather than having a few majority-black districts, the black community could be better served by having more state Senate districts where African-Americans constituted a high percentage of the population but less than a majority. In other words, ensuring that black voters have “electoral influence” doesn’t necessarily mean having a few overwhelmingly black districts. In theory, black Democrats could represent a majority of primary voters — but less than a majority of all voters — then team up with white Democrats in the general election to elect whomever was selected in the primary.

Now, however, it’s much more difficult for black voters in the South to find enough allied white voters to elect the representatives they want (almost always Democrats). There are just so few white Democrats left in the South, especially in the Deep South, compared to 10 years ago. It’s made drawing maps that meet VRA standards trickier. This problem is at the heart of two Congressional gerrymandering cases the Supreme Court heard on Monday, one from North Carolina and one from Virginia. The Court will have to decide how the VRA applies now that race has become such a strong proxy for partisanship in the South.

We can see the abatement of white Southern Democrats in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) data set. The poll, which started in 2005, surveys over 50,000 people nationwide every two years, providing more accurate demographic and geographic subgroup data than other publicly available surveys. The CCES also verifies the voting status of all its respondents to see if they’re registered.

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SOURCE:  
FiveThirtyEight