The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 and its subsequent amendments unquestionably changed the nature of the American political system. Within ten years of its passage, more blacks were registering, voting, running for elected office, and winning, due directly or indirectly to the VRA, (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1975, 39). The significant gains in black participation and the success of black candidates have been thoroughly studied; however, little research exists regarding the effects of the VRA on American Indians. Has the VRA resulted in increased registration and turnout among Indians? Has the act affected the success rate of Indian candidates? Once Indians are elected, are they able to become influential players in the political process and affect policies?
This chapter attempts to answer these questions. The first section explores the impact of the language provisions on registration and turnout among American Indians. The second section examines the success of Indian candidates after at-large electoral systems are dismantled. The third section focuses on the impact Indian elected officials have on public policy in those jurisdictions that have abandoned atlarge elections as a result of litigation.
The Impact on Registration and Turnout
The VRA of 1965 directly influenced the number of registered blacks in the seven southern states originally targeted by the act. Within seven years, more than 1 million blacks registered to vote, more than doubling the number of registered black voters prior to 1965 (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1975, 40).