Voting rights are a perennial topic in American politics. Recent elections and the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down key enforcement provisions in the Voting Rights Act (VRA), have only placed further emphasis on the debate over voter disenfranchaisement. Over the past five decades, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have consistently voted to expand the protections offered to vulnerable voters by the Voting Rights Act. And yet, the administration of the VRA has become more fragmented and judicial interpretation of its terms has become much less generous. Why have Republicans consistently adopted administrative and judicial decisions that undermine legislation they repeatedly endorse?
Ballot Blocked shows how the divergent trajectories of legislation, administration, and judicial interpretation in voting rights policymaking derive largely from efforts by conservative politicians to narrow the scope of federal enforcement while at the same time preserving their public reputations as supporters of racial equality and minority voting rights. Jesse H. Rhodes argues that conservatives adopt a paradoxical strategy in which they acquiesce to expansive voting rights protections in Congress (where decisions are visible and easily traceable) while simultaneously narrowing the scope of federal enforcement via administrative and judicial maneuvers (which are less visible and harder to trace). Over time, the repeated execution of this strategy has enabled a conservative Supreme Court to exercise preponderant influence over the scope of federal enforcement.
About the author
Jesse H. Rhodes is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind (2012).
"In parsing the partisan and institutional dimensions behind the retrenchment of the Voting Rights Act, Ballot Blocked makes valuable contributions. Scholars of racial politics, voting rights, political parties, interbranch relations, and American political development will undoubtedly have to contend with Rhodes' argument and evidence."
—Anthony S. Chen, Northwestern University
"The right to vote is the bedrock principle of a democratic polity—but despite, or perhaps because of that, voting rights are an endless source of contention, reform, and retrenchment. Rhodes' Ballot Blocked offers the most systematic, empirically rich, theoretically sophisticated analysis of the successes and failures of American voting rights policy to date. This book lives up to the importance of its topic."
—Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University
"In this bold, richly detailed investigation of America's foundational citizenship right, Jesse Rhodes provides timely and crucial new insights into the Voting Rights Act's evolution and undoing. Ballot Blocked uncovers the GOP's uneasy relationship with national voting protections, and the subterranean efforts resulting in the VRA's slow death. This book is a must-read for those who care about the past, present, and future of our nation's most treasured right."
—Vesla Weaver, Yale University
"This engaging account of the process of the dismantling of this historic piece of legislation is carefully supported, tightly analyzed, and beautifully written. In addition to solving a perplexing (and important) puzzle regarding the state of voting rights in the US, it also provides a fascinating perspective on the real workings of separation of powers....Highly Recommended."
—T. Marchant-Shapiro, CHOICE
"Rhodes's delineation of the Voting Rights Act's erosion and its relationship to divergent patterns in conservative politics represents a significant contribution to the literature....Ballot Blocked ultimately questions how governing bodies achieve contentious objectives without undermining broad-based political support....Rhodes finds a way to make sense of the difference between what politicians say and what politicians do."
—Julian Maxwell Hayter, American Historical Review