Battling Racial Vote Dilution in Voting Maps

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A woman holds a sign while standing outside the U.S. Supreme Court which reads "Let Every Vote Count"
A #fairmaps rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2019. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center

The voting maps we draw today will shape people’s lives for the next decade. If we want a fair and inclusive democracy where every voice is heard and every vote is counted equally, then we can’t let politicians carve up communities of color for political gain.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a national law that protects communities of color against attacks on their freedom to vote and their right to fair representation. One of the law’s key enforcement mechanisms, Section 2, bans racial discrimination in voting.

But because the U.S. Supreme Court has weakened other protections offered by the VRA, politicians have taken the opportunity to pass more discriminatory maps that unfairly silence the voices of communities of color.

One way they have done so is through racial vote dilution, the practice of creating district maps that cancel out or minimize the voting power of communities of color, keeping them from being able to elect their preferred candidates.

Racial vote dilution has been a growing problem since the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted Section 5 of the VRA, a provision that determined whether certain states and localities needed the federal government to approve new voting policies before they were implemented. 

When voters of color are forced to live under discriminatory voting maps, they have fewer opportunities to make their voices heard on the issues that matter most to them and elect representatives who reflect their values and will fight for their communities.  

On July 18, 2022, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in the case Merrill v. Milligan, urging the Court to reject Alabama’s attempt to severely curtail Section 2 of the VRA, one of the last remaining tools to challenge redistricting plans that dilute the electoral strength of minority voters. 

The Alabama voting maps in question illegally pack some Black voters into a single district, while dividing other clusters of Black voters into multiple districts to diminish their political influence. A district court ruled to temporarily block the map from going into effect, recognizing that it likely violated Section 2 of the VRA.  

The Supreme Court then froze that temporary hold, forcing Black Alabamians to vote under maps that limit their voting power until the Supreme Court comes to a final decision. 

CLC’s friend-of-the-court brief provides the Supreme Court with several alternative voting maps and corrective strategies that abide by the Constitution and do not dilute the voting power of Black Alabamians.  

As the district court ruled, Alabama’s enacted congressional map needlessly prevents Black voters from having the equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. CLC’s alternative maps prove that Alabama can fix this inequity while meeting its other stated policy priorities even better than the state’s enacted plan. 

This is not CLC’s first foray into the fight to stop racial vote dilution. To ensure that we can have a fair and inclusive democracy where voters of color are given an equal voice, CLC has been involved in several ongoing lawsuits on this topic at the state and local levels.  

We are suing the Washington State Redistricting Commission for creating a state legislative district in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions of the state that excluded adjacent active Latino voters in Yakima County, instead including areas with lower Latino voter turnout and a large number of more politically active, rural white voters who prefer different candidates. 

CLC is also representing the Spirit Lake Nation (Mni Wakan Oyate), Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and individual voters in a lawsuit against the state of North Dakota, challenging a discriminatory state legislative map that prevents Native Americans from electing their candidate of choice to the State House in two districts. 

Meanwhile, in Galveston County, Texas, we joined a lawsuit against the county for implementing local voting maps districts that intentionally discriminated against and diluted the electoral power of Black and Latino voters. 

Voting maps influence who runs for public office and whose interests our elected officials serve. Elected officials make decisions that are important to our lives and racial vote dilution deprives voters of color from having a say on those issues. 

Georgia is a communications assistant at CLC.
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