Government Research Intern: Cortney Sanders

Title: Politics of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Author: Cortney Sanders


The purpose of my research project is to examine the evolution of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Specifically, I investigate the degree to which polarization and increased partisanship have affected votes taken on each of the four reauthorizations since the law’s original passage. My procedures consist of looking at four congressional reauthorization periods for the Voting Rights Act, including 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006. I utilize the party disparity equation, a measurement created to determine the distance between the parties. In addition, I collect roll call votes on hearings regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 data sets from the Policy Agendas Website. I also calculate the party disparities and polarization of the roll call votes using the website and create my own excel sheet displaying the data collections I find. I will examine whether increasing polarization has led to declining support for reauthorizations.

The roll call votes were from the original 89th (1965) Congress, and the reauthorization periods during the 91st (1970), 94th (1975), 97th (1982), and 109th (2006) Congresses. I examined the party disparity of every individual amendment, procedural, and final passage vote for the Voting Rights Act in the 89th, 91st, 94th, 97th, and 109th Congress. I calculated the averages of all the types of votes for each House and Senate within a Congress, and then by individual vote type per Congress. The party disparity equation is: the total number of Democratic yes only votes divided by the total number of Democratic yes and no votes subtracted by the total number of Republican yes only votes divided by the total number of Republican yes and no votes.

I find that party polarization did affect the Voting Rights Act of 1965 roll call votes. In addition, there is significant increase in polarization in the 109th congress (2006) reauthorization. There was, however, a significant decrease in the Senate during the 109th congress reauthorization period. For the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its reauthorizations, party disparity in the House was higher for every Congress relative to the Senate. In the House, within each congress there was a difference in party disparity among each type of vote. In addition, the over-time averages for all votes across congresses showed disparity in the House. Finally, final passage votes had the least party disparity average in both the House and the Senate.

For future analysis, I will evaluate the convergence and replacement votes of the Senators and House congressional representatives whose votes were counted in the reauthorization passages. In addition, I will look at the roll call votes within states that are pre-clearance and those that are not and compare their party disparities. Finally, I will investigate if Southern Republicans vote differently from Northern Republicans (same for Democrats), which might have an effect on the vote of reauthorization.