In my recent report, “Why Voting Matters,” I show the dramatic differences in opinion between voters and nonvoters, and argue that more voter turnout would lead to more progressive policies. One of the most dramatic gaps in opinion is between white voters and non-white nonvoters (shown below). As 2016 approaches, the question of how to mobilize the political power of people of color is increasingly being discussed with the rise of groups like Black Lives Matter. Though it’s clear that voter turnout will not be enough to fully realize political equality, it can have a dramatic influence on policy. In a study released last year, political scientist Jon Rogowski and Sophie Schuit of the Brennan Center for Justice find that members of Congress representing districts covered by the preclearance provision (which was struck down by the Roberts court when it gutted the Voting Rights Act) were more supportive of civil rights legislation.
… Other research on the impact of voting in the South comes to similar conclusions. For instance, economist Suresh Naidu finds that poll taxes and literacy tests lead to a decline in the teacher-child ratio at black schools of 10 to 23 percent (no effect on white schools). Economists Elizabeth Cascio and Ebonya Washington find that the boost in black turnout following the Voting Rights Act boosted state transfers to localities with higher black populations. Economist Ferran Elias finds that the court orders shifting cities from at-large elections to single districts (thereby guaranteeing black representation on the city council) boosted public good expenditures and tax collection, as well as the share of black public workers. He also finds that it boosted the value of houses owned by black citizens. This research all suggests that voter protections, many of them under assault by the court, have been integral to equitable representation.