Registration Still Key to Minority Voter Participation

By Ben Spears and Michael Slater

Ben Spears is a Research Associate with Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD). Michael Slater is the Deputy Director of Project Vote and the Director of its Election Administration Program.

Contrary to a belief by the political cognoscenti that a wide gap exists between the voting rates of minorities and their white counterparts, the difference is small and appears to be shrinking. Once registered, blacks and other minorities vote at or near the same rates as whites. Registration rates, however, still show marked disparities between white and non-white citizens.

According to the Census, there were 14.3 million blacks registered to vote in 1996 and 11.4 million showed up at the polls - an 80 percent turnout among those registered. The same report shows that 5 million Latinos voted among the 6.6 million registered, or 75 percent; and 91.2 million whites voted of the 110 million registered to vote, or 83 percent.

Since that election the difference between the rate at which blacks and whites vote has narrowed. In 2002, white and blacks voted at a near equal rate--70 percent versus 68%--among those who were registered to vote. Fifty-eight percent of Hispanics voted. In 2004, registered whites voted at a rate of 89 percent, whereas 87 percent of registered Blacks voted and 82 percent of registered Latinos voted.

While minorities appear to be closing in on white voting rates, a 'voter registration gap' between white Americans and minority Americans remains. In 1994, Latino citizens lagged 15 percentage points behind white citizens (53% and 68%, respectively), and that disparity had increased by a percentage point, to 16 percent, by 2004 (58% and 74%, respectively). The gap between black and white voter registration rates is 5 percentage points, a two-percentage point decline from 1994 (in 1994, 61% and 68%; in 2004, 69% and 74%, respectively). Although disparity in registration rates persists, overall the number of registered voters for all races and ethnic groups has increased in the last ten years.

If blacks voted at their current rate but were registered at the same rate as whites, there would have been 1.1 million more blacks voting in 2004--a total of 15.1 million black voters. If Latinos registered at the same rate as whites, there would have been 2,175,198 more Latinos voting--a total of 9.7 million Latino voters.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the importance of voter registration in closing the disparity between white and minority participation, many states have erected barriers to registration. Some states have chosen to restrict voter registration drives while a few states condition registration on matching information on the registration card with information in other government databases. One state--Arizona--now requires proof of citizenship to register. Even states that are not overtly hostile to registration have ignored important federal mandates to offer voter registration opportunities to low-income Americans.

The great strides that have been made in voting shouldn't obscure the challenges still faced in voter registration. For more information on work being done to overcome the barriers to registration and participation for minorities, low-income voters, and young voters, please visit the Project Vote website.

Tags: election administration, Elections, minorities, minority, Politics, registration rates, voter participation, Voter Turnout, voting rates (all tags)



Re: Registration Still Key to Minority Voter Parti

This is pretty fascinating overall. I think most people think that lots of groups don't vote at the same rate as whites, but these numbers seem to indicate that if they are registred then they do.

Which would indicate that it would make sense to invest lots of money in voter registation drives, if the goal is to increase the participation of core progressive communities in the electoral process.

Anyone with cold, hard cash listening?

by nathanhj 2007-03-19 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Registration Still Key to Minority Voter Parti

I remember as a young adult in the 80s when there was a real voter drive and there were tables set up at alot of stores, ect.  The goal was to sign up the young and the minorities.  that is how I got registered to vote for the first time.  I've been voting democratic ever since.  I've had to update when I've moved but, that registration drive is what got me to the booth for 20 years.

by vwcat 2007-03-19 04:55PM | 0 recs
Thank You for the Commentary

I find this topic very fascinating and a necessity for native americans, ubran blacks, immigrant populations, and rural America to make mostly rich apathetic/conservative white legislators to pay attention and listen to their concerns.

Now after learning this, what are the next steps?

by optimusprime 2007-03-19 08:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Thank You for the Commentary

People interested in these constituencies' civic engagement should:

-learn about, and share with others, the facts about today's elections and elections administration issues, such as voter id, the politics of voter fraud, barriers to voting, and others from and

-invest in large-scale non-partison third-party voter registration drives by locally trusted groups.

by Project Vote 2007-03-20 08:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Registration Still Key

Based on the last two presidential elections, there aren't enough Dems to elect a Democratic president. There needs to be more registration among minorities to get the Dems in office.

by olawakandi 2007-03-20 11:38AM | 0 recs


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