Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies

Keith G. Bentelea1 and Erin E. O'Briena2

a1 University of Massachusetts Boston

a2 University of Massachusetts Boston

Abstract

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in state legislation likely to reduce access for some voters, including photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements, registration restrictions, absentee ballot voting restrictions, and reductions in early voting. Political operatives often ascribe malicious motives when their opponents either endorse or oppose such legislation. In an effort to bring empirical clarity and epistemological standards to what has been a deeply-charged, partisan, and frequently anecdotal debate, we use multiple specialized regression approaches to examine factors associated with both the proposal and adoption of restrictive voter access legislation from 2006–2011. Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs. These findings are consistent with a scenario in which the targeted demobilization of minority voters and African Americans is a central driver of recent legislative developments. We discuss the implications of these results for current partisan and legal debates regarding voter restrictions and our understanding of the conditions incentivizing modern suppression efforts. Further, we situate these policies within developments in social welfare and criminal justice policy that collectively reduce electoral access among the socially marginalized.

Keith G. Bentele is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston (keith.bentele@umb.edu). His research has examined the consequences of welfare reform, rising earnings inequality in the US, and the passage of multiple types of state legislation sought by the conservative Evangelical movement. His current research includes a project examining the performance of safety net programs in the 2007–2009 recession and the consequences of this recession for state poverty rates and racial inequality.

Erin E. O'Brien is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston and faculty affiliate in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies and Women Studies (erin.obrien@umb.edu). She has published extensively on poverty politics, policy, and inequality in the American case as well as gender, intersectionality, representation, and political organizing.

Footnotes

  The authors appreciate the valuable feedback they received from Joe Soss, David Kaib, Ian Vandewalker and our anonymous reviewers at Perspectives on Politics. They also thank Amanda Aykanian, Marija Bingulac, and Amanda Colligan, and for their excellent research assistance. Leila Farsakh, Luis Jimenez, and Zhang Wu provided very helpful, and much appreciated, guidance into an unfamiliar literature. We also owe a special debt of gratitude to Jeffrey Isaac for his exceptional guidance and support throughout.

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