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  • Edexcel Component 3, Section 4.5: Race and rights in contemporary US politics: voting rights

  • AQA Component Civil rights

Background: what you need to know 

This article reviews the way in which voting rights have become a controversial area in US politics. In the 2020 presidential election Republicans accused their opponents of perpetrating voter fraud, whilst Democrats argued that Republican-controlled states had engaged in tactics of voter suppression, designed to disadvantage members of minority groups, who mostly supported their party.

Democrats already felt threatened following the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby vs Holder (2013), which undermined protections introduced by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A conservative majority on the Court had ruled that it was no longer constitutional to insist that states obtain federal approval for changes to election laws. Democrats in the House of Representatives intend to bring forward legislation to restore the provisions of the Act.

However, given that the Senate is evenly balanced between the two main parties, and that Republicans may use the filibuster tactic to frustrate the Democrat plan, it is unlikely to pass into law. In the interim President Biden has used an executive order to strengthen voter registration, but he does not have the authority directly to over-rule state governments.

The article touches on several key areas for the study of US politics: the extent to which civil rights are secure in the 21st century; the role of the Supreme Court; the importance of partisanship in Congress; and the tension between federal and state power.

Click to read the article below and then answer the questions:

Voting rights: the battleground that could determine the next US election

Make sure that you understand the key concepts raised in the article, including the terms voter suppression, filibuster and executive orders.

Using the information in the article, and other sources available to you, answer one of the questions below, depending on which exam board specification you are following.

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 3:

  • Evaluate the view that civil rights are not securely protected in the US. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 2:

  • Explain and analyse three ways in which debates over rights have influenced US politics in recent years. [9 marks]

    TIP: The article gives you material for a discussion of voting rights, but you also need to look at other examples, such as equal access to education and other services (Supreme Court rulings in relation to affirmative action could be considered here) or the rights of immigrants (the controversy over the DREAM Act).

Graham Goodlad, St John’s College

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