The Triumph of Tokenism: The Voting Rights Act and the Theory of Black Electoral Success

In this article, my goal is to organize the divergent themes of black electoral success strategy within one conceptual framework in order to give the themes more cogency and attention. Having exposed the existence of a coherent theory, I then argue that the theory posits many of the correct goals but fails to provide a realistic mechanism for achieving them. The article proceeds in three Parts. In Part I, I develop the ideological and statutory roots of black electoral success theory. In Part II, I analyze the inadequacies of current voting rights litigation and its failure to realize the statute’s original goals. I conclude in Part II by arguing that contemporary preoccupation with black electoral success stifles rather than empowers black political participation for three reasons.

In Part III, based on my critique of the black electoral success theory, I put forth suggestions for a different approach to voting rights reform. Relying on what I tentatively call “proportionate interest representation” for self-identified communities of interest, I propose to reconsider the ways in which representatives are elected and the rules under which legislative decisions are made.