Voting Rights and Wrongs

Commentary, March 1982; reprinted in Walter Berns, In Defense of Liberal Democracy (Regnery Gateway, 1984).


The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is surely the most successful civil-rights measure ever enacted by the national government. Everybody—or, at least, everybody who has publicly offered an opinion on the subject—agrees with this judgment, and there is good reason why they should. Among civil rights, that of voting is fundamental because the enjoyment of other rights is likely to depend on it; prior to 1965, however, and despite the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964, it was a right denied to most Southern blacks. In Mississippi, for an egregious example, only 6.8 percent of voting-age blacks were then registered to vote; thanks to the Act, that proportion is now almost 70 percent, and in 1980 almost 60 percent of them actually voted. What is more, not only do white candidates for public office throughout the South now actively and publicly solicit black support at the polls, and Southern Senators and Congressmen legislate with a view to the interests of their black constituents, but major Southern cities have black mayors (Atlanta being the most conspicuous of these). Indeed, there are now almost 2,000 black elected public officials in the six states of the Deep South.

American Enterprise Institute