Few would argue the importance of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), legislation passed by Republicans in Congress, though signed by Democrat President Lyndon Johnson. The Act applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgement of the right to vote through among other things intimidation, suppression, literacy tests and poll taxes.
However, the Act also requires minority congressional and legislative districts be drawn with at least 50% minority voting age population in certain jurisdictions, and has contributed to the fracture between Republicans and minority voters.
Consider this: The redistricting tool which forces “majority-minority districts” compacts more minority voters into a district, while increasing the number of white voters in another. This limits the influence minority voters have in those districts by increasing the white percentage of the voters. In short, the VRA puts minority voters in one district and white voters in another, thus creating a political segregation.
It is not unheard of, and in fact, well-documented for Republican legislators to ally with black Democrats to gerrymander state and federal district lines to push more minority voters into those Democrat districts. The end goal is to compact minority Democrat voters so as to increase a state’s Republican districts and preserve black Democrat districts.
For proof of the impact, take a look at the 2012 election. Even while minority and millennial voters increased their share of the vote impacting the presidential and statewide races, including the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives remained safely Republican.
The reason is simple: As these voters increase their share, they remain compartmentalized within legislative and congressional districts so their impact is minimal except at the statewide level. If minority voters increase their share of the vote in Compton, Detroit, or Philadelphia, it will have no impact on the outcome of district races outside of those safe Democrat districts, even while changing the outcome of races determined statewide, including president.
But here’s the problem: As we push black, brown, and yellow voters into compact districts, Republicans increasingly represent wholly Anglo districts and minority voters are increasingly represented by liberal Democrats. Republicans thus have less understanding or credibility on minority issues or constituencies, and even more determinative, an incentive to pander to homogenous white voters.
What does this mean to us today? Republican legislators representing 80-95% white districts have had little reason to understand minority communities, nor appeal to their voters. The result is that white Republicans represent a shrinking white electorate while Democrats represent a growing and increasing influential non-white electorate. So for 2-3 decades, GOP politicians have been incentivized by VRA to pander to white votes while discounting non-white votes and today’s demographic projections project a certain obituary.
We are not innocent in the circumstances that we find ourselves but there’s no question the legal framework thrust on the politicians encouraged it. However, in order to become more representative and understanding of the increasing diversity of the American people, we simply have to break down these walls of segregation so that we have the same opportunities to show new voters the benefits of our policies as the liberal Democrats.
We Republicans genuinely believe in a color-blind society and our rigid adherence to that principle leads us down a path of seeming indifference, while we are encouraged by the cynical unintended consequences designed to promote fairness.
It is time for Republicans to demand that we represent diverse communities and make a genuine commitment to selling our vision of America to new voters and truly make this a majority party. If we don’t, we die.