Monday numbers: a closer look at the election turnout rates of white and Black voters

Monday numbers: a closer look at the election turnout rates of white and Black voters

(Graphic: Brennan Center)

As U.S. Senate Democrats united behind a bill dubbed the “Freedom to Vote Act” that would expand voter registration, promote nonpartisan redistricting and designate Election Day a federal holiday, experts at the Brennan Center for Justice have identified gaps in voter turnout that warrant stronger protection for non-white voters.

A report by the Brennan Center last month highlighted the growing gap in the white-Black turnout rate after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. 

In 2013, the Court removed a key “preclearance” requirement that had mandated some voting districts to receive federal approval before implementing changes related to voting. The law was designed to block discriminatory laws and rules. 

Section 5 originally covered six states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, as well as 40 counties in North Carolina.

In the 2013 landmark case Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Court majority that Section 5 was no longer needed as “African-American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered” by that provision.

As Policy Watch reported, after the Shelby decision, North Carolina immediately passed a strict voting laws, including a photo ID requirement. The law also eliminated the first week of early voting, and same-day registration. 

George Washington University law professor Peyton McCrary, an expert who testified before Congress last month, listed eight states that he believes should be covered by the preclearance requirement under the proposed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Delving into the Census Bureau data that have consistently tracked voter turnout by race, the report shows that most of the eight states showed increased voter turnout gaps between non-Hispanic white and Black voters after the Shelby decision. 

North Carolina turnout gap by race, 2000-2020

12.1 — percentage gap in turnout between white voters, who cast ballots at higher rates, and Black voters in 2000. That year, Al Gore ran against George W. Bush

80.15% — Black voter turnout rate in 2012, when President Obama was running for a second term and Black voting rates outpaced whites’

66.27% — white voter turnout rate the same year

3.3 — white-Black turnout gap in the 2014 midterm elections; whites voted at higher rates

6.7 — percentage gap between white and Black voters in the 2018 midterm elections; whites’ voting rates surpassed that of Blacks’

3.1 — percentage gap between white and Black voter turnout in 2020 — whites still had higher turnout rates, but the gap narrowed that year, when Donald Trump sought a second term but lost to Joe Biden

4 — number of states where a higher percentage of nonwhite voters cast ballots than whites did in the 2012 presidential election, among the eight identified by expert Peyton McCrary. North Carolina is one of them.

National voter turnout by race in 2020

71% — voter turnout rate of non-Hispanic white Americans 

57% — rate of all other nonwhite Americans 

63% — rate of Black or African Americans 

57% — voter turnout rate of Asian Americans 

54% — rate of voter turnout among Latino Americans 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau via the Brennan Center for Justice