The Supreme Court and youth electoral participation

Georgia, with its long history of black voter suppression, has for decades been the flashpoint for fights over voting rights laws. The state has often seen stark differences in turnout between white and nonwhite communities, with the latter generally voting at a much lower rate.

But not always: In the 2012 election, when Barack Obama won a second term in the White House, the turnout rate of black voters under 38 in Lowndes County – a Republican-leaning county in South Carolina Georgia – was actually four percentage points higher than the turnout rate. rate for white voters of the same age.

This turned out to be temporary. According to a new study by Michael Podhorzer, former political director of the AFL-CIO, in 2020, the turnout rate of young white voters in Lowndes was 14 percentage points higher than that of black voters of the same age.

What happened in the meantime? It's impossible to say for sure, given many variables, like Obama no longer being on the ballot.

But a growing body of evidence points to a pivotal 2013 Supreme Court decision: Shelby County v. Holderthat overturned a key section of the Voting Rights Act. The court effectively ended a provision requiring counties and states with a history of racial discrimination in elections – including all of Georgia – to obtain permission from the Justice Department before changing voting laws or procedures. vote.

The result was a series of laws that included restrictions on voting, such as limiting mail-in voting and adding voter ID requirements. (A new Georgia provision, which prohibits most people from providing food and water to voters waiting in line within 150 feet of a polling place, was featured on a recent episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm. “)

For years, political scientists and civil rights leaders argued that the high court's decision would lead to a resurgence of historically marginalized voter suppression because local and state governments, including many in the South, no longer had need federal authorization to change election laws and regulations. Two new studies reinforce this theory.

This month, research from the Brennan Center found that the turnout gap between white and non-white voters “grew almost twice as fast in formerly covered jurisdictions as in other parts of the country with similar demographic and socioeconomic profiles “.

In other words, the participation gap tended to widen more quickly in areas that lost federal oversight after 2013.

Podhorzer's study analyzed turnout at the county level. It found that the growing racial turnout gap since the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby had been felt most acutely by young voters across the country.

These are trends that worry Democrats in areas like Lowndes, home to Valdosta State University, which has more than 12,000 students.

Podhorzer found that older voters are more resilient to voting changes because they have established voting habits. But younger voters or those voting for the first time are far more likely to be deterred or prevented from voting.

This is “a kind of generational replacement, in which older, established voters maintain their voting habits, while new restrictions lock out younger voters,” Podhorzer said in his report, which will be released this weekend.

In Bulloch County, Georgia, Winston County, Mississippi, and Newberry County, South Carolina, the racial turnout gap among young voters increased by 20 percentage points or more between elections of 2012 and 2020. In each of these counties, the gap between Gen X voters and even older voters never increased by more than 11 percentage points.

Holding the youth vote in November will be crucial, especially for President Biden. He won 60 percent of voters under 30 in 2020, according to exit polls, a key element of his coalition. But the 2022 midterm elections saw a downward trend in the youth vote, and young voters expressed exasperation with the president ahead of this year's elections.

One caveat: Using turnout to assess the impact of changes to voting laws is, at best, an imperfect assessment, because it doesn't take into account other motivating factors, like close races or polarizing candidates. It also ignores some aspects of the cost of voting, such as the time required.

Finding a larger racial turnout gap among younger voters runs counter to some conventional wisdom about recent changes to voting laws. Policy experts have often argued that limiting access to mail-in voting or reducing the number of polling places is likely to affect older, often less mobile voters.

But Bernard Fraga, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, noted that finding a larger racial gap in turnout among young voters was “fairly consistent with previous literature on who should be most affected by this type of laws.”

“For populations that have been historically disenfranchised, or are simply less likely to vote, small changes in voting calculations can have a much larger impact,” Fraga said, “because they are less resilient to this type of repression. »

By all estimates, a relatively small number of voters in just a few states are likely to decide this year's presidential election: undecided voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania , North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Do you live in one of these states? Not sure if you'll vote for President Biden, former President Donald Trump, or someone else? If you lean in one direction, could you be persuaded to change your mind? Are you considering not voting at all?

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