Closing the Racial Voting Gap

Turnout among blacks and Latinos is low compared with white turnout. It's time for a change.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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 As has been widely reported, the purpose of voter-ID laws has been to restrict the turnout of Obama’s Democratic base. Though African Americans and Latinos helped Obama win key states like North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio in the 2008 contest, his margins remained relatively small. As a recent report from the National Urban League explains, even a slight drop in voter participation among blacks and Latinos will spell victory for the GOP.

The historic significance of Obama’s potential victory motivated hundreds of thousands to register and vote in 2008. According to a Pew Research report, the overall participation of African Americans was 60 percent in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry ran unsuccessfully against then-President George W. Bush.

That participation rate increased to nearly 65 percent in 2008. An improvement, yes, but still lackluster considering that blacks represented 12.1 percent of voters but more than 13 percent of the national population. So African-American participation as a percentage remained at a deficit.

In comparison, white Americans represented nearly 75 percent of the voting electorate in 2008, despite being only 63 percent of the nation’s population. Whites were more engaged in the process that decides their political representation. That is the mark of responsible citizenship. This is where African Americans are falling short — especially given a past riddled with discrimination and systematic disenfranchisement.

But it doesn’t end there.

According to research conducted by the nonprofit Sentencing Project (pdf), African Americans are more likely to be disenfranchised by past criminal records or current parole and probation status. Roughly 13 percent of the total black male population — 1.4 million men — are not allowed to vote, a rate seven times the national average. In states that permanently disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40 percent of black men may permanently lose their right to vote.