October 11, 2013
An Ohio University researcher is co-author of a groundbreaking new study that suggests that the Voting Rights Act has played a key role in increasing minority representation on city councils nationwide.
The study was conducted by Anirudh V.S. Ruhil, associate professor and associate director of research and graduate programs at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, in collaboration with Paru R. Shah of University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Melissa J. Marschall of Rice University.
The study is remarkable not only for its findings, but also for its scope: The team examined 25 years of election data from up to 5,000 cities to document the influence of the VRA. It is the most extensive study of the impact of the VRA to date.
Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the VRA, a key provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.
The new study shows that both the number of black city council members overall and the number of cities with any level of black council representation has increased over time. But the increases in the numbers of black-held council seats and cities with at least one black council member were significantly higher in jurisdictions subject to federal review under the VRA. The gains in locations not subject to such review not only were smaller—they actually decreased after 2001.
Although the study focuses on municipal government, its results have implications at the state and federal levels because of the crucial role local elections have on political careers and voter attitudes, Ruhil said.
“Local government is the cradle of democracy,” he said. “It’s where people cut their teeth when they embark upon a political career.” As a result, the ability of minority candidates to succeed in municipal elections may affect the number of such candidates for higher offices.
The researchers’ paper on their findings, titled “Are We There Yet? The Voting Rights Act and Black Representation on City Councils, 1981–2006,” will be published later this fall in The Journal of Politics.
About the Voinovich School
The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs leverages the expertise and resources of Ohio University to create public/private partnerships that address vital issues in energy and the environment, entrepreneurship and regional development, and policy innovation and strategic leadership. These partnerships benefit not only the region, but also students in the School’s degree programs, whose active participation in projects prepares them to become effective leaders from the local level to the international stage.
Contact: Anirudh V.S. Ruhil at 740-597-1949 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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