How Automatic Voter Registration Can Amplify The Black Vote
The next step in having a more inclusive voting process.
October 25, 2018 at 5:27 pm
The American public has the opportunity to further descend into a handmaid’s tale type of existence, or let their voices be heard.
That’s why voting for the upcoming midterm election is more crucial than ever. It will have an impact on several key issues such as criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, affirmative action, and health care. Unfortunately, more strict identification laws and purging voter rolls have created barriers in the voting process. The push for electronic voter registration has increased in the past few years, but another option that has been discussed recently is the use of Automatic Voter Registration.
“We are one of the very few democracies in the world that puts the burden of registration on the voter,” said Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote, a non-profit organization that focuses on voter engagement.
With AVR, government agencies transfer eligible citizens’ information to elected officials. In turn, those individuals will be automatically registered or have their current registration updated. However, the person can opt-out, if they so choose. Not only is this convenient, but it has been proven to make the process run more efficiently and costs states less money.
Because of its convenience, I believe the process will have a positive effect on Black voters. Black Americans make up about 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, but continue to have a strong presence in politics. If AVR was implemented on a national scale, it could result in an additional 22 million newly registered voters, which will be great for the black vote.
We are already witnessing the power of the impact of the Black vote in Florida and Georgia. In Florida, we have the opportunity to make history with Andrew Gillum. If elected, he will be the first Black governor in the sunshine state. The same applies to Stacey Abrams, who will not only be the first Black woman governor of Georgia but also in the United States. Our representation is valuable, combined with practical and progressive policies to move us forward.
Thirteen states and Washington, D.C. have implemented AVR or plan to do so soon. States that decided to adopt this method have reported an increase in voter registration and participation. There were more than 12,000 new and updated registrations within a six-month period of Vermont’s AVR program. Maryland, Washington, and West Virginia are a few states that passed AVR legislation, with a standing July 2019 deadline.
Compared to other developed countries, only about 64 percent of the eligible U.S. voting population was registered to vote in 2016. That is a significant gap, while Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Slovakia rank higher with over 90 percent.
Black voter turnout was 59.6 percent in 2016, compared to 66.6 percent in 2012. The Census Bureau also reported the number of black voters fell to 16.4 million. But this does not diminish the power the black vote holds. If it wasn’t for Black people, Sen. Doug Jones would not have claimed victory in the 2017 Alabama Senate race, upsetting his Republican opponent Roy Moore.
Nonprofits like BlackPAC and Color of Change organized voter registration drives across the state, targeting predominately black urban and rural communities to influence people to get out and vote. Jones won largely due to the overwhelming number of black voters, 98 percent of black women and 92 percent of black men, respectively. Just imagine with the implementation of AVR, what difference we can make.
In my home state of Virginia, black participation was a contributing factor to Gov. Ralph Northam’s win. In 2017, there were 600,000 more voters compared to 2013, with many including Black Virginians, had a lot to do with that increase.
In a poll conducted by The Washington Post, 87 percent of African Americans supported Northam. That is impressive considering that black people only make up about 20 percent of the state’s electorate.
Earlier this year, Delegate Mark Levine introduced House Bill 403 which details the groundwork for automatic voter registration. This could carry a significant reward if passed. A study from the Center for American Progress addressed if Virginia implemented AVR, voter registrations would increase by nearly half a million, 210,000 that were unlikely to register without the program in place.
Proof of the benefits of AVR can already be seen in Oregon. Beginning in 2016, it helped increase voter turnout, making the electorate more diverse. Fourteen percent of eligible voters that were registered automatically were people of color. That figure almost constitutes Oregon’s minority population, which stands at 16 percent. Young people also had a tremendous advantage. Thirty-seven percent of AVR registrants were between the ages of 18 and 29, compared to 13 percent who were not.
“We know AVR definitely increases the amount of young people to vote,” said Kat Calvin, founder of Spread the Vote, a 501c3 non-profit that helps eligible voters obtain government-issued IDs.
“Seventy-seven percent of the people we work with have never voted,” she added.
Younger generations play a vital role, especially millennials, who make up more than 83 million of the U.S. population. A 2015 study by The Black Youth Project shows the biggest increase in voter turnout over the last two decades occurred mainly from black youth. In 2012, black youth participation increased to 45.9 percent. That percentage is higher than their white (41.4 percent) and Latino (26.7 percent) peers.
Black millennials have been a part of that driving force. Many have noticed this and are aiming to receive their support such as with organizations and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to attract young voters.
According to a student from Prairie View A&M University, after a town hall meeting featuring Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in September, about 1,500 people were registered to vote. This is just one of several examples of how influential our vote is.
Since midterms are notoriously determined by older, white conservative voters, that puts us at a disadvantage. We should not only do our part, but also continue to hold politicians accountable if they do not serve our best interests. Utilize the power of our vote to make that possible.
At this current moment, we see that our vote is in the process of being taken away for the midterm elections. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate, blocked 53,000 voter registrations. About 70 percent of them were African-American. He also has a history of purging the state’s voter roll.
This past week, officials in Jefferson County, Georgia stopped a bus of mostly black senior citizens from early voting, claiming liability and lack of vetting for the event. Voter suppression is real. If it continues to unravel, we will see the dire consequences in the coming years. This will negatively affect the possibility of implementing AVR.
You may ask, is voting the only action that requires change? The answer is no, but we have more to lose by not submitting your one vote which could change the course of the future.
Automatic voter registration might not have an impact in the midterms, but if it were to be permitted nationwide, we could attempt to achieve a more inclusive electorate across racial and socioeconomic lines. Do not be idle and stay at home on Election Day. Vote on Nov. 6th.
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