The Case of the Elusive Black Voter

Thanks to the housing crisis, nearly 160,000 of Milwaukee's African-American voters can't be located at their last address.

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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Any attempt at traditional "Get Out the Vote" efforts go by the wayside "if six in ten people that you planned on talking to are not there,” Biko Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters, tells Slate's Sasha Issenberg. And that's one of the realities Democrats running 2012 campaigns say they're facing as they try to track down young people, immigrants and minorities, who, in addition to already being among the most mobile demographic groups, have also been heavily impacted by the housing crisis. The problem is especially acute in Milwaukee, where an estimated 160,000 African-American voters can't be located at their last address:

New data from Milwaukee give an indication of how dire the Democrats' disappearing-voter problem already is. This spring, the League of Young Voters, which was created to mobilize young minority communities, collaborated with the liberal Wisconsin Voices coalition to dispatch teams of young canvassers. Starting in April, they spent eight weeks knocking on 120,882 doors across 208 of Milwaukee's 317 wards to raise awareness of the gubernatorial recall election scheduled for June. The doors had one thing in common: the voter file said they were all home to a registered voter whom a commercial data vendor had flagged as likely to be African-American.

But the voter file represented a fiction, or at least a reality that had rapidly become out of date.  During those eight weeks, canvassers were able to successfully find and interact with only 31 percent of their targets. Twice that number were confirmed to no longer live at the address on file  — either because a structure was abandoned or condemned, or if a current resident reported that the targeted voter no longer lived there.

Based on those results, the New Organizing Institute, a Washington-based best-practices lab for lefty field operations, extrapolated that nearly 160,000 African-American voters in Milwaukee were no longer reachable at their last documented address — representing 41 percent of the city's 2008 electorate. 

Read more at Slate.

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