Gap in national turnout between black and white voters is growing, study finds

The turnout gap between black and white voters is growing nationwide, according to a new study that claims “millions of ballots” go “uncast by eligible voters.”

“The racial turnout gap — or the difference in the turnout rate between white and nonwhite voters — is a key way of measuring participation equality,” the Brennan Center for Justice states in a report released on Saturday. “We find that the gap has consistently grown since 2012 and is growing most quickly in parts of the country that were previously covered under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was suspended by the Supreme Court in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.”


According to its website, “The Brennan Center for Justice is an independent, nonpartisan law and policy organization that works to reform, revitalize, and when necessary, defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice.”

“We work to craft and advance a transformative reform agenda — solutions that aim to make American democracy work for all,” the think tank states.

Though it claims to be nonpartisan, the Center is “a self-described ‘liberal’ legal advocacy organization that focuses its policy activism on advancing left-of-center policy priorities on election-related, criminal justice, racial, and political institutional change,” according to Influence Watch.

“The Brennan Center pushes various left-of-center and liberal activist policy positions on ethnic preferences, elimination of the Electoral College, restrictions on political campaign speech, opposition to the Trump administration, left-of-center changes to the criminal justice system, and support for the far-left Black Lives Matter movement,” Influence Watch reports.

“It is just not acceptable to have a democracy that not only systematically sees lower participation from voters of color, but where that gap in participation is consistently growing,” Wendy Weiser, vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center, told NBC News. “The sheer magnitude of the racial turnout gap, I think, is alarming and should alarm all of us.”

“Section 5 was a measure that forced jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination against Black voters to seek approval from the Justice Department for any changes to voting laws or processes,” NBC News explains.

“The factor that sort of rose up as actually being a marked driver of that turnout gap was whether or not a county was previously subject to federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act before that Shelby County decision,” said Weiser.

“By 2022, our primary models indicate that the white–Black turnout gap in these regions was about 5 percentage points greater than it would have been if the Voting Rights Act were still in full force, and the white–nonwhite gap was about 4 points higher,” the study found. “Put differently: the turnout gap grew almost twice as quickly in formerly covered jurisdictions as in other parts of the country with similar demographic and socioeconomic profiles.”

“We’ve been documenting a huge spike in restrictive voting laws across the country,” Weiser said. “The laws and the voting restrictions that are adopted … pile on top of each other.”

“Standing alone, each restriction might have an impact that’s hard to assess or measure,” she continued. “But as they start piling on, you might be able to see whether or not they’re having an impact on the voting process.”

According to the study, the gap “costs American democracy millions of ballots that go uncast by eligible voters.”

The Brennan Center continues:

It also has significant consequences for political candidates and their campaigns.

In 2020, if the gap had not existed, 9 million more ballots would have been cast — far more than the 7 million by which Joe Biden won the national popular vote. In 32 states, the number of “uncast” ballots due to the turnout gap was larger than the winning presidential candidate’s margin of votes.

That’s not to say that the racial turnout gap necessarily changed electoral outcomes in any given state, but the immensity of this figure does put the magnitude of the turnout gap into greater perspective. The gap matters for our political system.

To close the gap, the Center says, the full Voting Rights Act must be restored.

“A fully functional Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act would improve conditions in areas where racial discrimination remains in voting policy,” the study argues.

Many Republicans, however, oppose the notion.

“While Democrats prioritize measures they say would promote voting rights and have introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in Congress,” NBC News reports, “Republicans are largely not on board, arguing that Democratic-backed proposals could lead to fraud.”

The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, is praising the Voting Rights Act.

“Today,” the DOJ wrote Sunday on X, “AG Garland & @CivilRights AAG Clarke crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of the hundreds of non-violent protestors who were injured on #BloodySunday – a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement that led to The Voting Rights Act.”

Today, AG Garland & @CivilRights AAG Clarke crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in honor of the hundreds of non-violent protestors who were injured on #BloodySunday – a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement that led to The Voting Rights Act. — U.S. Department of Justice (@TheJusticeDept) March 4, 2024