-Access to the ballot box. The most recent data from Pew Research Center suggests that few Americans of any race have problems casting ballots. Indeed, in Pew’s post-2012-election poll, only 4 percent of whites and 2 percent of blacks answered yes to the question: “Did you have any problems or difficulties voting this year, or not?” As Pew’s director Andrew Kohut explained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
There were accusations leveled during the 2012 presidential campaign that black turnout was being discouraged in Florida and other key states by voter ID laws or attempts at deception or intimidation. Given these charges, Pew went a step further in the 2012 post-election survey than in previous surveys by asking voters if they knew anyone who tried to vote but could not. Blacks more often said they did than whites—14% versus 9%. But a follow-up question, “Why were those people not able to vote?” revealed that this difference was entirely accounted for by the fact that unlike whites, 6% of blacks reported knowing felons who tried to vote but could not.
The absence of a racial gap in reports of voting difficulties is consistent with a clear and persistent increase in African-American turnout since the mid-1990s. Post-election analysis by Pew and by the U.S. Census indicate that in 2012—for the first time in history—blacks voted at a higher rate, 66% (of age-eligible black citizens), than whites, 64% (of age-eligible white citizens).
Critics of Section 5 see these findings as evidence that the stubborn problem that made Section 5 necessary—minorities being denied access to the polls—has largely been solved, and that the extraordinary federal interference in state affairs is no longer justified.
For a state-by-state breakdown of voter turnout and factors such wait times at polling stations, check out the Pew Election Performance Index .
-Racial attitudes and socio-economic gaps. As part of the current Supreme Court case, a half dozen law and political science professors from universities across the country have submitted a brief comparing recent socio-economic and voting data from regions covered by Section 5 with data from uncovered jurisdictions. Among other things, they found that (1) “negative racial attitudes are more prevalent in covered jurisdictions”; (2) “covered jurisdictions are more likely to adopt vote denial and suppression measures”; and (3) “non-white voters in covered jurisdiction are vulnerable due to socioeconomic disparities.” The document is packed with useful statistics and analysis.
-The Section 2 litmus test. Besides Section 5, the Voting Rights Act includes another safeguard, known as Section 2, which allows minorities and their advocates to challenge discriminatory voting practices by bringing suit after the fact. And, unlike Section 5, it applies everywhere in the country.
Morgan Kousser, a professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology, has spent the last four years compiling data on voting rights incidents, including Section 2 cases. While these can be brought anywhere, he’s found that more than 83 percent of successful Section 2 suits arose in jurisdictions that were also covered by Section 5. Ellen Katz of the University of Michigan has unearthed a similar pattern.
Both researchers see these findings as evidence that (contrary to the claims of Section 5’s critics) discriminatory voting practices remain more prevalent in covered jurisdiction than in other parts of the country.
As Kousser wrote in a recent Voting Rights Act series, which ran on Reuters’s blog, The Great Debate, “five-sixths or more of the cases of proven election discrimination from 1957 through 2013 have taken place in jurisdictions subject to Section 5 oversight,” a finding he believes justifies Section 5’s continued existence.