The Role of Section 2 - Redistricting & Vote Dilution

How does Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act affect redistricting?

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is a key provision that applies nationwide. Section 2 protects minority voters from practices and procedures that deprive them of an effective vote because of their race, color, or membership in a particular language minority group. Practices that have the effect of depriving minority voters of an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of choice constitute minority vote dilution. During every redistricting cycle, officials must ensure that they draw plans that do not dilute minority voting strength (or deny it altogether) as they otherwise face liability under the Act.

Special attention must be paid to the Voting Rights Act whenever redistricting occurs. Section 2 requires that officials draw plans that do not unfairly dilute minority voting strength. If officials draw and enact plans that violate Section 2, such plans could be subject to legal challenge. A Section 2 lawsuit can be filed by the Attorney General of the United States, who bears primary enforcement responsibility under the Act, or by private individuals and organizations. Redistricting-related litigation can prove both costly and protracted, preventing the implementation of a final plan for several years. Thus, advocates must be vigilant in demanding adherence to, and officials should make a good-faith effort to comply with, Section 2 of the Voting

How does vote dilution occur?

Vote dilution most commonly occurs when those who draw redistricting plans compress minority communities into a small number of districts (packing) or spread them thinly into a large number of districts (cracking, fracturing, or splitting). For example, packing can occur when two districts are created with 90% African-American population in both. This kind of packing might be found to violate Section 2 when three African-American majority districts could be drawn if the African-American population was spread out more evenly across three districts instead of being unnecessarily concentrated in two districts. Conversely, cracking can occur if two districts are created that have 35% Latino population in each. Such splitting could be found to violate Section 2 if, for example, it were possible to place the Latino population into a single district where they would form a majority and could have a better opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.

Both packing and cracking are illustrative of the kind of actions that can dilute the minority group’s vote and deny them an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be used either to advocate for or litigate to obtain a more reasonable and fairly drawn plan that better reflects the voting strength of minority voters in a particular area.