The Role of Section 2 - Legal Requirements

What must plaintiffs show in court to demonstrate a violation under Section 2?

Section 2 prohibits states and local governments or jurisdictions (political bodies such as cities, towns, school districts, etc.) from adopting practices, procedures and redistricting plans that dilute minority voting strength. Whether there is a dilution of minority voting strength is governed by the legal principles set forth in the case of Thornburg v. Gingles. There, the Supreme Court set forth three factors a minority group must prove in order to establish a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act:

  1. that the minority group is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated to make up a majority in a single-member district;
  2. that the minority group is politically cohesive—that is, it usually votes for the same candidates; and,
  3. that, in the absence of special circumstances, the white majority votes together to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.

If the minority group can establish those three things (known as preconditions), the Supreme Court has said that the next question is whether, under “the totality of the circumstances,” the minority group had less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of its choice.

What types of electoral districts impact minority opportunities to elect a candidate of choice?

Majority-Minority Districts: A majority-minority district is one in which racial or language minorities form a majority (at least 50% or more) of the voter eligible population. The definition of eligible voter population varies by state and can include factors such as age (over 18) and U.S. citizenship.

Minority-Coalition Districts: A minority-coalition district is a type of majority-minority district in which two or more minority groups combine to form a majority in a district. Thus, a district that is 25% African-American, 20% Latino and 6% Asian American is a majority-minority district, but it is not a majority African-American, majority- Latino, or majority-Asian American district. In most jurisdictions, when two or more minority groups form a coalition that collectively meets the Thornburg v. Gingles requirements, the coalition may be able to seek relief under Section 2 if officials fail to create a minority-coalition district. The Supreme Court has not addressed this issue.

Crossover Districts: A crossover district is one in which minorities do not form a numerical majority but still reliably control the outcome of the election with some non-minority voters “crossing over” to vote with the minority group. While states can and should consider creating crossover districts, the Supreme Court in 2009 held that the Voting Rights Act does not require their creation.

Influence Districts: An influence district is one that includes a large number of minority voters but fewer than would allow voters from the minority group to control the result of the election when voting as a bloc. The number or proportion necessary to allow a minority group to influence or shape an election outcome is determined by a review of past elections in your particular area - there is no “magic number.” In the case of influence districts, a sizable minority group can be said to be able to “influence” the outcomes of elections, but not control them.

Officials should proceed carefully to ensure that they are not altering a district that provides minority voters with a real opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in a way that would render it a mere influence district. Influence districts can be found to dilute minority voting strength if they are put in place to replace effective majority-minority districts.