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New newspaper in Journal of the European Economic Association, published by Oxford University Press, shows that expanding voting rights can reduce political violence. The researcher finds this by examining the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Political scientists have long debated the impact of suffrage on violence and political outcomes. In theory, extending suffrage to a historically disenfranchised group has great power to reduce the potential for violence, as voting offers those dissatisfied with the status quo a channel to express dissent and elect new officials. “Give us the vote and we will turn the flagrant crimes of bloodthirsty mobs into the thoughtful good deeds of orderly citizens,” said Martin Luther King Jr. in his historic 1957 Lincoln Memorial speech. Malcolm X expressed similar sentiments in a speech he gave in Cleveland in 1964.

But suffrage also changes the political balance. Such changes may increase the incentives of elites to compensate for the loss of power through political violence. Newly enfranchised people may also turn to violence if they don’t see the benefits they expected from being enfranchised.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. It dramatically changed the political mood of the United States, but its effect on political violence remains controversial. Certainly, political violence in the country was quite prominent during the 1960s, with Americans witnessing several murders and riots that broke out during the decade in cities such as Birmingham, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Atlanta. . On the night of King’s assassination, riots took place in more than 100 US cities.

The Voting Rights Act is prohibited discrimination in the vote, but not all jurisdictions were equally affected by the changes in the law. The law required covered jurisdictions to suspend any practices restricting registration and to obtain prior federal approval before any changes to voting practices, and in many cases federal officials came to register new voters in their district.

But the districts changed by the changes introduced by the Voting Rights Act were often located next to (otherwise similar) districts that could have continued as before. Here, the researcher compared data on political violence between covered and uncovered counties on both sides of the border in the years after 1965.

A researcher found that the Voting Rights Act halved both the number of incidents of political violence and the likelihood of new waves political violence would break out. Additional results show that in the constituencies covered by the Act, citizens voted to have their say Political Views, while in other countries citizens continued to use violence. This effect was mainly the result of a change in political strategies, rather than a change in politics and the economic situation of citizens.

“In the current conditions of growing dissatisfaction with democracy, understanding the relationship between voting and violence is critical,” said author Jean Lacroix. “Many countries still discriminate against access to voting. Ending such policies could encourage all citizens to participate more in voting and rely less on violence as a political act.”

New research shows the impact of riots at the ballot box

Additional information:
Ballots instead of cartridges? The impact of the Voting Rights Act on political violence, Journal of the European Economic Association (2022). DOI: 10.1093/jeea/jvac048

Citation: Study Shows Voting Rights Expansion Could Reduce Violence (2022, October 6) Retrieved October 6, 2022, from

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