How Bad is Black and Brown Voter Registration?

How Bad is Black and Brown Voter Registration?


Putting the fear into Democrats, a report recently came out indicating that the number of Black and Latino registered voters had declined sharply since 2008. More specifically, the pieces that were running this story about the decline in voter registration highlighted the point that this news was bad for President Obama’s re-election bid.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported:

“In the 2008 election, robust turnout among black and Latino voters is credited with putting Obama over the top in key swing states, including Virginia and New Mexico.

Voter rolls typically shrink in non-presidential election years and registrations among whites fell at roughly the same rate, but this is the first time in nearly four decades that the number of registered Hispanics has dropped significantly.

That figure fell 5 percent across the country, to about 11 million, according to the Census Bureau. But in some politically important swing states, the decline among Hispanics, who are considered critical in the 2012 presidential contest, is much higher: just over 28 percent in New Mexico, for example, and about 10 percent in Florida.

For blacks, whose registration numbers are down 7 percent nationwide, and Hispanics, the large decrease is attributed to the ailing economy, which forced many Americans to move in search of work or because of other financial upheaval.”

Not willing to give in to the impression that they’re losing key blocs of support, the Obama campaign pushed back.  Clo Ewing, the director of constituency press, was crisp and clear with the new spin: “Registration among Latinos and African Americans has never been higher. There are more Americans of both backgrounds registered to vote today than there were when President Obama was elected.”

The Obama campaign also notes that the Census data is already 18 months old.  One can’t fairly compare May 2012 voter roll data to November 2010 voter roll data since by November most registration has been completed.

So the explanation goes.

When factoring the reality of many Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis and having to move, combined with efforts making it more difficult to register to vote, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the alarms are sounding off about this perceived voter registration decline. But given that it’s May, just shy of six months of November 6, there is still plenty of time to continue registering folks.

Ewing breaks it down even further on the Obama campaign blog, “…when you compare the number of Latino and African American voters in November 2010 to those in November 2006, or compare the rolls in May 2012 to May 2008, it’s clear that the number goes up, not down, in each case. For example, the Post article claimed that in Florida, the largest battleground state, the number of Latino registrants decreased by 10 percent from Election Day 2008 and Election Day 2010; in reality, it increased by 5 percent. That’s a mistake 15 percentage points wide.”

So the initial story about the decline in voter registration did not completely explain the situation and created a “sky is falling” warning that put Democrats on edge and probably gave Republicans a reason to be optimistic as Latinos and Blacks lean blue. Perhaps the Obama campaign doesn’t want Republicans thinking that their voter ID laws are actually working.  Plus, stories about declining Black and Brown voter rolls – particularly those focused on the impact of voter ID and voter suppression laws – could discourage potential voters from getting registered.

But regardless of where registration stands now in early May, it would behoove all civic engagement organizations to be on alert and continue to ramp up education and registration efforts given the plethora of new voters registration rules. It makes no sense to wait to acquire new government identifications later if the process can be initiated now. Plus it will give people (and voter organizations) a sense of whether the states are equipped to issue X number of identifications to meet the requirements that their legislatures have enacted.