Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2007

Abstract

Majority-minority districts have been the subject of extensive, and often rancorous, critique and debate. In their prime, these districts nearly single-handedly changed the face of American politics by enabling racial minorities to elect their preferred candidates who reflected both their interests and identity. However, precisely at the point when these districts achieve an optimal balance of majority and minority populations and host multi-candidate competition, they reveal a frailty that not only thwarts their immediate purpose but contradicts both the express and implicit goals of their source: The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Majority-minority districts possess an inherent limitation that contradicts the Voting Rights Act's manifest purpose of safeguarding minority interests and creating electoral opportunity by facilitating minority voters' election of candidates of their choice. Prof. Nelson argues that this limitation of majority-minority districts, defined as "the collective action problem," lies in their general inability to withstand competition among multiple minority candidates and a white candidate while simultaneously preserving their function to elect minority voters' candidates of choice. More significantly, an inherent limitation of majority-minority districts also lies in their potential to produce a converse result—that is, to facilitate the election of a non-preferred candidate and, perhaps, the least-preferred candidate of minority voters. The focus of this Article is to examine the paradox of achieving minimal minority population and multi-candidate competition in majority-minority districts at the expense of fulfilling the Voting Rights Act's promise when those districts confront the candidacy of white challengers. Prof. Nelson argues that, despite its goal of ensuring minorities an opportunity to elect their candidates of choice in majority-minority districts, the Voting Rights Act did not contemplate white "spoilers" in majority-minority districts and, consequently, does not provide meaningful protection against the resultant vote fragmentation that leads to electoral defeat of minority voters' candidate(s) of choice. She further posits that, absent a legislative or judicial mandate, this gap in the Voting Rights Act's goals and results can most readily be resolved only by a concerted effort on the part of minority communities to limit vote fragmentation through one or more means. Part I sets forth what the Voting Rights Act intends to accomplish in terms of both protecting minority interests and creating minority opportunity, exploring the express and implied guarantees of the statute, with a particular focus on section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as the enabling legislation of majority-minority districts, the definition of "political cohesion," and the use of majority-minority districts to advance minority interests in the electoral process. Part II examines the operation of majority-minority districts in the current political arena through the filter of two congressional races in which white candidates threatened to—and in one case, did—gain advantage in majority-minority districts because of racial splintering of the minority vote resulting from their candidacy. Part III explores the role of minority communities in ensuring that majority-minority districts elect their candidates of choice, even when there are outside challengers. The Article concludes by framing queries as to what defeat in these districts could portend for the sustainability of majority-minority districts and other Voting Rights Act protections

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