Reading: “Whose Votes Count?”

Whose Votes Count?: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights  by Abigail M. Thernstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to read this after seeing it mentioned in Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot. I understood that Thernstrom’s study, published by Harvard UP, laid the foundation for conservative opposition to the Voting Rights Act. By the mid-1980s, the VRA was two decades old, and had been reauthorized in 1970, ’75, and ’82. Of course, times were changing, and so did the VRA, and this book elucidates one perspective on those changes. I approached the book knowing that I wouldn’t learn everything there is to know by reading one book of less than 250 pages – the last 65 pages are endnotes – but Whose Votes Count? does acknowledge need for the VRA due to longstanding injustices in the South and the impacts of the act, its alterations, and its court battles. On the one hand, Thernstrom asks tough questions about concepts like responsiveness, bloc voting, effect-versus-intent, fairness, and effective representation. On the other hand, she uses not-so-subtle persuasion tactics like periodically inserting words like “useless,” “odd,” and “excessive.” At the end, I agreed with some of her assertions and disagreed with others, which I expected, having come to it with an open mind. But what I gained from it seems more important than just my opinions: an increased understanding of the complicated nature of our democracy.

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