Political scientist examines legislative diversity in new study

Author: Don Wycliff


The federal Voting Rights Act has been indispensable to the political progress of minority populations in the United States, but they still are severely underrepresented at every level of government, new research by a University of Notre Dame political scientist indicates.

Writing with three co-researchers in a journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA), Dianne M. Pinderhughes, professor of Africana studies and political science, observed that, at the congressional level,the vast majority of nonwhite House memberswere elected from districts covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed originally in 1965 to end discriminatory electoral practices in the South.

The law has been renewed several times, and its coverage expanded to assure access to the vote for people who speak languages other than English. Beginning in 1982, the law also protected the creation ofmajority-minoritydistricts, so that nonwhite voters would have a chance to elect candidates of their respective groups to office.

Pinderhughes and her colleagues found that of the 71 black, Latino, Asian and American Indian House members in the 109th Congress, more than 60 percent came from districts covered by one or another of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act. All 25 of the Latino members came from such districts.

At both the congressional and state legislative levels, the sheer numbers of nonwhite representatives have grown substantially over the last quarter century, but in percentage terms, they remain far short of true proportionality.

Nonwhites were 31 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, but they were less than 12 percent of the members of the House of Representatives. The 891 nonwhite members of state legislatures in 2006 were only 12 percent of the total 7,382 state lawmakers.

Pinderhughesco-researchers are Pei-te Lien of the University of Utah, Carol Hardy-Fanta of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and Christine M. Sierra of the University of New Mexico.

The voting rights article appeared in PS: Political Science and Politics, one of three journals published by APSA. The data in the article are related to a larger study on elected officials of color being conducted by the same research team.

Pinderhughes joined the Notre Dame faculty in autumn 2006 from the University of Illinois-Urbana. She currently is president-elect of APSA and will assume the presidency at the organizations 2007 annual meeting in Chicago next month.

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