Department of
Political Science

UW School of Law

US DOJ Civil Rights Division


Election Law Blog

101 Gowen Hall, Box 353530
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-3530
Ph: 206-569-4259

LAW E 558: Voting Rights Research and the Law

Mon & Weds, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm, Gates Hall 441
Professor: Matt A. Barreto
Office: Gowen 148
Office Hours: By appt.

Course Description

This course will tackle some of the most pressing legal questions in our participatory democracy, specifically voting rights, and represents a substantial area of civil rights and Constitutional Law that students may wish to pursue following the completion of their degree. While the United States often boasts of its extensive franchise, the right to vote for all citizens has had a slow evolution in our country. In this course we will address two primary topics both related to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its application today: (1) redistricting and minority representation; and (2) the protection or suppression of the right to vote. Students will read and discuss primary case law, theoretical and empirical research in law review journals, and evidence-based research in relevant legal and political science journals all related to voting rights and the law.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula (Section 4b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which put a hold on Section 5 administrative review in covered jurisdictions. As a result, many states and counties have aggressively moved forward with voting plans that were previously considered to be unlawful. We will spend time reviewing the Shelby County decision, and we will also closely review current challenges to voting rights and contribute to an existing database of cities, counties and states that may have voting rights issues that warrant closer scrutiny. The course will conclude with students each filing a mock brief either on behalf of voting rights plaintiffs which will include the necessary legal arguments and case review, as well as laying out the necessary data, research and empirical findings to support the case. Final paper and final presentations will summarize the results of their research findings on their voting rights case.

Course Books

Additional Course Readings

Weekly Readings and Assignments

Week 1:
Mar 31 – Welcome and Introduction / Course Overview
Apr 2 – What is the Voting Rights Act? History and Purpose
Readings for today: Grofman, Ch 1; Davidson, Ch 1 (online)

Week 2:
Apr 7 – Section 2 of the VRA
Readings for today: Grofman, Ch 2; Ch 3
Apr 9 – More on Section 2
Readings for today: Henderson Ch 8 (Katz); Ch 1 (Grose)
1-page summary of each chapter due at start of class April 16

Week 3:
Apr 14 – Section 5 of the VRA
Readings for today: Henderson Ch 3 (Fraga) and Ch 9 (Becker); Henderson book online
Apr 16 – gathering evidence: polarized voting, vote dilution, totality of circumstances
Readings for today: Grofman, Ch 4; Henderson Ch 5 (Abosch)

Week 4:
Apr 21 – Shelby Co Debate
Readings for today: Petitioners brief in Shelby Co. (online); and reference materials
Apr 23 – playing with voting rights data – bring laptops
In-class assignment: get dataset, merge, run basic analysis | Practice data here

Week 5:
Apr 28 – candidates of choice, more on Gingles
Readings for today: Paul Jacobs (online) and Mary Kosterlitz (online)
April 30 – reviewing the data, meet in teams

Week 6:
May 5 – voter ID laws – what does the law say?
Readings for today: The Cost of Voter ID Laws (online)
May 7 – voter ID laws – what does the data say?
Readings for today: The Disproportionate Impact of Voter-ID (online); Voter ID in Pennsylvania (Online)

Week 7:
May 12 – Section 203 – language minorities
Readings for today: Henderson Ch7 (Jones-Correa); Ch 11 (Ancheta); Ch 12 (Benson)
May 14 – Meet in teams to discuss your case

Week 8:
May 19 – critiquing polarized voting data
May 21 – creating districts to meet Gingles
Readings for today: Grofman Ch 5

Final presentations to follow