Though the anti-affirmative action movement hit a snag last week when Colorado voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have banned the use of race- and gender-based preferences, the movement’s most vocal proponent has vowed to keep the campaign alive by taking the issue to other states in the future.
Colorado voters voted against Amendment 46 last week, 51 percent to 49 percent, making Colorado the first state in five tries to reject such a ballot initiative.
But Ward Connerly, founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a nonprofit organization that leads the national anti-affirmative action campaigns, said the defeat won’t affect his plans down the line. He pointed to the fact that a similar initiative passed in Nebraska, making it the fourth state to ban the use of affirmative action. It joins California, Washington and Michigan.
Connerly said he considered the Colorado loss an anomaly, pointing to the fact that Barack Obama, the first black presidential nominee of a major party, was on the ticket. He said Obama’s candidacy drew an unusually large number of minority voters to the polls.
“People were turning out to vote for Obama and against the initiative, and who otherwise would not be voting,” Connerly said. “It was just a perfect storm that occurred, especially given the amount of money Obama put into the Colorado effort.”
Since Obama’s historic victory last week to become the 44th president of the United States, Connerly has said Obama’s election proves that affirmative action is no longer needed.
In Nebraska, officials at public colleges and universities are currently assessing how to comply with the amendment. Officials at the University of Michigan were in the same situation this time two years ago.
Since that time, the University has implemented programs and scholarships that aim to replace the use of race and gender in admissions. Instead, admissions officials use a system called Descriptor PLUS, which gives them socioeconomic background information about prospective students, including the average income and racial breakdown in a student’s neighborhood.
The University’s underrepresented minority enrollment since the ban has dropped slightly, from 12.2 percent in 2006 to 10.4 in 2008, far less than the ones that took place at state schools in California and Washington.
Connerly said the University’s ability to limit the impact of the ban shows that race-based affirmative action is unnecessary.
“We will try to work with the people that are there to reassure them that the world hasn’t come to an end,” he said. “Even though in places like Michigan, where there is still opposition within the university community, life did not end.”
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides analysis on public policy, said affirmative action bans often lead to socioeconomic class-based preferences in the admissions process at universities. He said he expects Nebraska to follow in the footsteps of Michigan, California and Washington.
“What I’ve argued for a number of years is that schools get the economic status of students and give the leg up to students that overcome economic obstacles,” he said. “My guess is that that is what Nebraska will shift to in the future given that they will no longer use race.”
Connerly said he has no problems with class-based preferences.
“I think that’s really what affirmative action ought to be doing,” he said. “It should be helping those who need it. If we’re trying to get to the place where racial discrimination doesn’t exist then we have to be ending all of this stuff.”