Black Votes Matter - From Selma to Shelby

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Throughout the history of the United States the authority over a state’s electoral process has shifted four times from a state itself to the government and back. Although a state has the constitutional right to oversee its own elections, the federal government has had the power to oversee a state’s elections twice in order to ensure the right of the 15th Amendment and to safeguard the democratic concepts of one person, one vote and citizen equality. This thesis argues that these four shifts can be divided into cycles, each containing two stages, one in which the state has the authority, and one in which the federal governments oversees a state’s electoral process. These cycles are analyzed in order to answer the question if a pattern exists regarding the dis- and re-enfranchisement of African Americans, depending on who is in charge of the elector process, and focuses on southern, former Confederate states. Cycle one covers slavery up to the Compromise of 1877. Cycle two covers the Jim Crow era and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 up to 2013. Cycle three started with Shelby County v. Holder, which gave states their constitutional authority back in 2013 and is ongoing. By discussing the concepts of federalism, state sovereignty and equality, and the influence of the Supreme Court, it is concluded that the vote of African Americans has been and is being suppressed and diluted in predominantly southern, former Confederate states when the state oversees the electoral process, which in turn warrants federal intervention. This is especially the case in this thesis’ case study of Alabama, that currently has in place voter ID laws, a current-day poll tax and disenfranchises African Americans through disproportionate incarceration. Additionally, it is concluded that the Supreme Court holds great power in determining the scope of the federal government and that its rulings influence one’s access to the ballot.
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