The racial turnout gap has widened in jurisdictions previously covered by the Voting Rights Act


In 2013, when Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, he argued that the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under section 5 was no longer necessary because “the participation of African-American voters exceeded the participation of white voters in five of the six states. [Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina] initially covered by §5 with a deviation in the sixth state of less than half a percent [Virginia]. “While this was true in 2012 – and only in 2012 – the turnout gap between whites and blacks in these states reopened in subsequent years, and by 2020 whites’ turnout surpassed the black participation in five of the six states.

Replicate Shelby County Opinion Methods

Using the same census data source as that used in the Shelby County opinion, we show that the racial participation gap has increased in most jurisdictions that were previously covered by preclearance. Racial turnout rates are calculated by dividing the number of ballots cast by the estimated citizen population over the age of 18. This analysis was compiled from general election voter data for the past 24 years from eight states. The states used are based on the eight states that the Advancement of Voting Rights Act (VRAA), as introduced in 2019, will likely cover, according to recent testimony to Congress from the law professor of the George Washington University, Peyton McCrary. These states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas – all of which were covered in whole or in part by the preclearance provisions of the Act. voting rights before SHelby County.

General conclusions drawn about the participation of eligible Latin American and Asian voters in states where they are under-represented may be imprecise due to the small sample size provided by census data. We controlled for this data gap by analyzing only the participation of Latin American and Asian American states for years that had at least 30 eligible Latin American and Asian American voters. Overall, we found that the larger the population of Latin American and Asian states, the closer the turnout gap between whites and non-whites came to the results of examining the same gap by the government. Brennan Center nationally, due to the greater representation of these underrated groups. When this was not the case, the white-non-white gap more closely reflected the white-black gap.

We also believe that the gap between whites and non-whites may be underestimated, as the census data we use for the analysis does not provide information on the voter turnout of Native Americans, a group that is significantly affected by discriminatory electoral laws. However, we do know from the National Congress of American Indian that registered voters in this group have a lower turnout than other racial groups, which forms the basis of our hypothesis.

Racial participation differentials in jurisdictions covered by the Advancement of Voting Rights Act

While in 2012, just before the Shelby County decision, the white-black turnout gap was narrowing in the states we analyzed, and in many cases, even briefly closed, this trend reversed in the years that followed. In 2012, seven of the eight states had higher black voter turnout than white voters. In 2020, the reverse is true – in only one of the eight states was black participation higher than white.

In a few states, this reversal is particularly alarming. Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas experienced higher turnout gaps in 2020 than at any time in the past 24 years. The turnout gap between whites and blacks in South Carolina widened the most, increasing by 20.9 percentage points in the eight years since Shelby County. While black participation surpassed white participation in 2012, white participation was more than 15 percentage points higher than black participation in 2020.

A similar trend can be seen in the gap between white voters and all non-white voters. The total turnout gap between whites and non-whites has increased since 2012 in the eight states likely to be covered by VRAA. There is enough data to conclude that the gap has widened for blacks, Hispanics and Asians in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. In Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, the sample sizes in the available data from the 2020 census are too small for Hispanic and Asian voters to make much of a difference in an overall estimate of the white-no turnout gap. white which is distinct from the white-black participation gap in these states. Notably, North Carolina went from a greater proportion of non-white voters represented in 2012 with a white-non-white gap of -9.3 percentage points to a 5.4 percentage point gap, a leap by 14.7 percentage points, well above the national average of 4.6 percentage points.

Overall, we find that the growth in racial participation gaps between 2012 and 2020 was even more pronounced in states susceptible to preclearance under the VRAA than those seen nationally. Seven of the eight states had white-non-white turnout gaps that increased more than the national rate by 4.6 percentage points between 2012 and 2020. And in four of the eight states precleared under the VRAA, The white-black turnout the gap increased more than the national rate by 10.3 percentage points from 2012 to 2020.

Expanding the analysis to other non-white groups also reveals that, even in 2012, progress in closing the racial participation gaps was not as significant as the Shelby County suggested decision. The court only looked at the turnout gap between whites and blacks, which temporarily narrowed in many states in 2012, likely due to the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot and the subsequent increase in black voter turnout. But with the exception of Latino voter turnout briefly exceeding white voter turnout in Florida in 2012 and Louisiana in 2012 and 2016, Latino voter turnout lagged behind white voter turnout in the 24th. years in all states where these rates are measurable.

Shelby Countys continuation

In 2013, the Supreme Court suggested that closing the racial participation gap supported the conclusion that the need for preclearance was over. As this analysis shows, in the years following the Shelby County decision, these racial participation gaps widened further. The reopening of the racial participation gap likely has many causes, and it is possible that the end of the preclearance condition played a role. What is clear, however, is that the trends identified by the Supreme Court have been reversed at an alarming rate.


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