Voting and politics

Voting and politics;

I’ve tried to keep the reading a bit shorter than usual this week, even though it is an online class, to give you the time you need for the ReDistricting Game below. Do try to read at least the Weiser and Opsal before you complete the game.
Ancheta, “Discrimination and Antidisrimination Law,” Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience (42-60): ancheta.pdf
In this chapter of his book on civil rights for Asian Americans, Ancheta discusses the nature of anti-discrimination law. He begins by presenting a series of theories about the nature of race, including those based in biology and in social constructionism, as well as explaining how prejudice works from psychological and systemic/institutional perspectives. If you’ve taken a lot of coursework on race, this section might be review, but I encourage you to skim it anyway to recharge your memory. Starting on page 48, he turns to the way that law interacts and intersects with race, explaining different perspectives on race and legal understandings. This section is particularly important for those of you who might be thinking about legal careers, but it is written to be comprehensible by those not interested in law as well. As you read, take some brief notes about the ways each perspective explains the interaction between race and law. Starting on page 55, Ancheta explains where antidiscrimination law comes from, focusing on the role of the Constitution as well as legislative statues and executive action, and then on page 58 he begins to discuss the limits of antidiscrimination law and the way politics matters here. When you finish reading, be sure you can explain both what antidiscrimination law is able to accomplish and where it falls short of its purported goals.
Yoshino, “The Pressure to Cover,” New York Times Magazine 01/15/2006: yoshino.pdf
In this short excerpt from his phenomenal book Covering, Yoshino further explores some of the limitations of antidiscrimination law and proposes a new way to look at civil rights. Consider the idea of covering–where else might it matter besides race? Have you ever experienced demands to cover? And what would it mean for civil rights if we focused more on what we do rather than only who we are? (I strongly encourage you to add Covering to your future reading list–it’s half memoir and half scholarship, and please believe me when I tell you most students really like the book. If you are willing to read a more difficult version, you can get Yoshino’s Yale Law Journal article in which he develops his ideas about covering for free.)
Uggen, Behrens, and Manza, “Criminal Disenfranchisement,” Annual Review of Law & Social Science 2005:1 (307-22): uggen.pdf
In this article, Uggen and his coauthors discuss the practice of prohibiting convicted criminals from voting in American elections. They begin by detailing the historical roots of this practice, then discuss what various thinkers have said about the connection between disenfranchisement and theories of punishment. Beginning on page 313, they explicitly connect these discussions to race, then turn to legal challenges to disenfranchisement laws (challenges which have overwhelmingly failed). In the later section of the article, beginning on page 318, they discuss the impact of felon disenfranchisment on electorial politics (they don’t focus as much on the effect on individuals). When you finish reading, be sure you can explain why people might support–or oppose–felon disenfranchisment and what the consequences of this practice have been for our legal and electoral system.
Weiser and Opsal, “The State of Voting in 2014,” Brennan Center for Justice (1-8): weiser.pdf
This short report details changes to voting systems in states across the United States between 2010 and 2014. In some cases, the authors make the race-based consequences of these changes explicit, but even if they do not, think about what the race-based consequences of the various changes they mention might be. Pay particular attention to their discussion of changes in the implementation of the Voting Rights Act (due to the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Hodler) and their discussion of voter ID laws. When reading about voter ID laws, you might consider what you have read in Goffman about the difficulty the residents of 6th street have in obtaining legal identification.

Assignment instructions:
In Spring 2014, the RI Senate unanimously passed a bill that would have counted prisoners at the ACI as residents of their home legislative districts for purposes of drawing House and Senate district boundaries by population. However, this bill was not brought up in the House following public opposition by newly elected House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Matiello’s district happens to include part of the ACI (for more on this, see
For the purposes of this week’s assignment, you will take on the role of a staff member to a RI legislator, who has asked you to write about the impact of the proposed legislation in advance of the 2015 legislative session. Remember, in writing a memo you do not need to support or oppose the proposal, but rather outline the issues surrounding it and the potential consequences of its passage. For more on how to write a memo, see Your memo should be approximately 700 words.
In your response, be sure to draw on what you have read for this week and previously in class. You will want to include some mention of at least most of the following issues:
?    Voter ID laws (see for information on RI’s voter ID law, which you might contrast with what you’ve read for this week and in Goffman about IDs)
?    Racial and political gerrymandering practices (be sure to mention your own experience playing the Gerrymandering Game here!)
?    Felon disenfranchisement
?    Principles of discrimination and and anti-discrimination in law
?    Literacy tests, like the Louisiana one you looked at
?    Other sorts of legal issues surrounding access to voting and politics


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *