JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: DEMOCRATIC DILEMMAS. Liberals cheered the passage of the Voting Rights Act extension last month, but Columbia political scientist David Epstein, who's done research on race and redistricting, makes the case for feeling some ambivalence. At issue is the interplay of majority-minority districting and Republican dominance in the South, a dynamic that has vexed progressives for many years now:
The fact is, the voting arrangements that elect the most minorities as possible to office are not the same as those that do the most to promote the policy goals supported by minority voters. This wasn�t always the case; it used to be that the best way to get pro-minority legislation was to construct districts that were sure to elect minority-supported representatives. But with the decrease in polarized voting in the South, and increased polarization between the parties in Congress, this equation no longer holds. Indeed, research I have conducted with Sharyn O�Halloran shows that with the rise of the Republican Party�s fortunes in the South, the �hazard rate� in that region is now 2 to 1: for every extra majority-minority district created, that is, two extra Republicans get elected from surrounding districts. This means that, on average, each additional majority-minority district results in the loss of one vote for minority-supported legislation.
This isn�t to say that such districts shouldn�t be constructed at all, just that in some cases they might also be counterbalanced by a certain number of districts that spread out minority voters more, helping to prevent the election of representatives unfriendly to minority policy concerns. There is no easy answer to the question of how to strike this balance, but the deafening silence you hear is a conversation that is not taking place. No one is willing to broach the topic of whether it might ever serve minorities� interests to support voting arrangements aimed at advancing their policy interests, even if it comes at a small cost to their concentrated impact as voters or to the electoral prospects of minority politicians.
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