The Journal of Politics


Are We There Yet? The Voting Rights Act and Black Representation on City Councils, 1981–2006

Paru R. Shaha1, Melissa J. Marschalla2 and Anirudh V. S. Ruhila3

a1 University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

a2 Rice University

a3 Ohio University


Sound evidence demonstrating what, if any, role the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has played in the impressive gains minorities have made in local office holding over the last 45 years remains in short supply. The present study is motivated by three crucial questions. First, where are gains in minority office holding most apparent, and how are these gains related to the VRA? Second, while studies have noted gains in black representation over time, the question of how the VRA in particular has contributed to these gains remains unclear. Finally, given claims made by opponents of the 2006 legislation reauthorizing the VRA that it was no longer needed, the question of when the VRA has been most efficacious, and if it continues to be relevant, is also salient. Our findings suggest that the VRA has been and continues to be an important tool in ensuring black descriptive representation, particularly in places with a legacy of racial intimidation and discrimination.


  Paru Shah is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201.

Melissa J. Marschall is the Albert Thomas Associate Professor at Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.

Anirudh V. S. Ruhil is an Associate Professor at Ohio University and the Associate Director of Research and Graduate Programs, Athens, OH 45701