Author (Your Name)

Sean M. HollyFollow

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


Nicholas Jacobs

Second Advisor

Dan Shea


The discussion of suffrage and the development of the U.S. electorate is misguidedly based solely around federal action; constitutional amendments and federal legislation are commonly revered as primary determinants of the right to vote. This tendency poses a specific problem with contemporary discussions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Specifically, discussions of the VRA ignores the ability of subnational actors to innovate politically and readjust their vehicles of political development in the wake of federal supposition of state powers. The Voting Rights Act did not destroy state authority regarding the right to vote; it merely disrupted their vehicles of development. This thesis describes the ways in which subnational actors responded to the VRA by either pushing forward or pulling back on federal initiatives regarding the expansion of suffrage prior to Shelby. Although they remain watershed moments in United States history, neither the Voting Rights Act nor Shelby act as the beginning and end of voting rights and federalism. Through the administrative, executive, and judicial action of state actors in Georgia, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Idaho, I conclude that federalism and the ability of subnational actors to affect suffrage were not destroyed by the Voting Rights Act. Changes in the demographic composition of states elicited suffrage-related responses from subnational actors that benefitted the actor’s partisan interests; subnational officials responded to demographic change by covertly expanding or restricting the right to vote as a means of benefitting the majority party. This thesis concludes that the decentralization of authority regarding the right to vote is necessary.


Federalism, Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act, Subnational, Disruption, Decentralization