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The Voting Rights Act, Legislative Elections, and Southern Partisan Change: Conversion or Competition*


Direct correspondence to Richard Forgette, Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi, 134 Deupree Hall, University, MS 38677 <>.



Has the shift from a one-party Democratic South to an (increasingly) Republican South been marked by partisan conversion or partisan competition of legislative district seats? That is, as Democratic incumbents retired, did the districts switch from uncontested Democratic incumbents to uncontested Republican seats (conversion), or did the two parties contest the district after the period of Democratic retirement (competition)?


We analyze all state legislative elections since 1967 to explain southern partisan change. We report rates of uncontested legislative elections, and we model candidate entry in southern and nonsouthern legislative elections.


Our findings support the conversion hypothesis implying that southern legislative districts are increasingly polarized along partisan and racial lines.


Despite growing partisan parity within the southern electorate, southern state legislatures are increasingly composed of uncontested white Republicans and uncontested black Democrats. We discuss the implications of party-based, racial polarization for the ongoing constitutional debate regarding the Voting Rights Act's Section 5.

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