The Racial Rules of Democratic Participation


The right to vote is one of the central and most basic components of a democracy, and the expansion of the franchise has been one of the most consistent themes in U.S. political history. In fact, more than half of the constitutional amendments ratified after the Bill of Rights have dealt with voting rights.1 The suffrage struggle has been central to demands of African Americans and women to be recognized as full citizens and to have comprehensive access to the rights associated with citizenship. Even after the Fifteenth Amendment extended the franchise to black Americans, it took the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) for African Americans to even come close to realizing the promise of citizenship. As in other areas of life affecting black Americans, racial progress around the right to vote has been an “unsteady march” – two steps forward and one step back.2 As with education, wealth, and all the other topics this book has covered, the rules around voting and political inclusion both create and reinforce racially unequal outcomes in the economy and society writ large. For more than twothirds of U.S. history, the majority of the domestic adult population was ineligible for full citizenship because of race, country of origin, or gender.3 While we have made progress in rolling back explicit pre– Civil War exclusions, the rules of the electoral system continue to be racialized. The history of electoral rules maps cleanly onto the history of other racial rules we have outlined throughout this book. Since the abolition of slavery, social movements and political actors have sought to expand the electorate, and with each iteration of progress there has been a corresponding backlash to fuller inclusion, including new mechanisms to suppress the vote through both explicit and implicit rules. For instance, in response to the post– Civil War Reconstructionera Fifteenth Amendment, which extended

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Crow2017TheRR, title={The Racial Rules of Democratic Participation}, author={J Lesley Crow}, year={2017} }