Poverty, Place and Voter Participation: Bridging the Gap
Written By: Michael Redzich
In West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, there is a correlation between poverty, place, and lower voter participation. In the 2016 presidential election, the five poorest counties in four of these states exhibited average voter participation rates that were appreciably lower than their five wealthiest counties. The fifth state discussed here—Oregon—features the opposite trend.
This Note briefly explores a sampling of election laws in each state, with a particular emphasis on voter identification laws and the availability of mail ballots. It then considers several proposed pieces of federal legislation designed to expand the franchise. It also considers some of the salient concerns about voting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and litigation surrounding the 2020 election. Drawing upon various pieces of legislation, the Note then offers a federal legislative proposal that ties federal dollars to the parity of voter participation between the poorest and wealthiest census tracts. All of this is possible with unified Democratic government willing to reform the filibuster. The reactions of state and federal leaders to the challenge of voting during the COVID-19 crisis only underscores the need for broad reform. Legislation like this Note’s “Equal Voter Participation Act of 2021” could survive under several constitutional theories. The disparity in participation between rich and poor voters will likely only grow wider with more restrictive state laws and the lack of a federal response. The time to act is now.