In 2013, when Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, he argued that the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s preclearance requirement under Section 5 was no longer needed because “African-American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States [Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina] originally covered by §5 with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent [Virginia].” Although this was true in 2012 — and only 2012 — the white-Black turnout gap in these states reopened in subsequent years, and by 2020, white turnout exceeded Black turnout in five of the six states.
Replicating the Shelby County opinion methods
Using the same source of census data that was used in the Shelby County opinion, we show that the racial turnout 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 above the age of 18. This analysis was compiled from the past 24 years of general-election voter data from eight states. The states used are based on the eight states the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), as introduced in 2019, will likely cover, according to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University law professor Peyton McCrary. Those 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 Voting Rights Act before Shelby County.
Broad conclusions made about the turnout of eligible Latino and Asian voters in states where they are underrepresented can be imprecise due to the small sample size provided by census data. We controlled for this deficiency in data by only analyzing states’ Latino and Asian American turnout for years that had at least 30 Latino and Asian American eligible voters accounted for. Overall, we found that the larger the Latino and Asian American population of states, the closer the size the white-nonwhite turnout gap mirrored the results of the Brennan Center’s examination of the same gap at a nationwide level, due to the greater representation of these undercounted groups. When this wasn’t the case, the white-nonwhite gap more closely mirrored the white-Black gap.
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