NSF award fuels quest to understand what makes voting-rights advocacy groups thrive

LAWRENCE — With voting rights being challenged across the nation, a University of Kansas scholar is examining what today's voting rights advocacy groups can learn from a political organization that has traveled down that road before.

Brandon Davis, assistant professor of public affairs & administration, is seeking to understand how the Alabama Democratic Conference sustained a statewide legal campaign for voting rights between 1965 and 1989, as racially exclusionary practices continued in spite of the Civil and Voting Rights acts.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Davis a grant from the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to carry out this work, which will improve the understanding of social movement theory while also providing insights for today’s rights advocacy groups as they confront state voter ID laws, limits on early voting, gerrymandering and other such obstacles.

"The funding will mean that the story of the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Black Alabamians who were involved will get recorded for perpetuity," Davis said. "The ADC's political use of law for political purposes was the most successful use of law in the enforcement of voting rights in U.S. history. Understanding how the ADC accomplished these great feats will inform how future rights advocacy groups organize and enforce rights going forward."

For the project, Davis will create a repository of research materials on minority political organizations and their legal campaigns, and a short documentary on the topic will be created and shared with civic and political organizations across the nation and with students from high school through graduate school.

Underrepresented students will play a part in all stages of the research, Davis said, imparting upon them research and job readiness skills while increasing their sense of belonging, which is highly correlated with academic outcomes.

As a scholar, Davis examines public policy and its intersection with race, ethnicity, law and society. He has published research showing that contact with the criminal justice system affects the level of trust people have in government and their intentions to take part politically in activities. His work has shown that carceral contact impacts family members as well and that it also negatively affects individuals’ sense of well-being, which also reduces political participation, especially in communities of color.

Davis earned a Master of Social Work from Alabama A&M University, and from the University of Alabama he earned a master's degree in women's studies and a doctorate in political science. Davis was a predoctoral and postdoctoral research associate at Brown University. 

Tue, 04/12/2022



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Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

KU News Service