Why 8 Million African Americans Are Not Registered to Vote

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Oct 07, 2008

Editor's Note: The recent report that 8 million African Americans are not registered to vote should come as no surprise, writes Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who says the dismal voter registration record has as much to do with the political parties as with the voters themselves. Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

The recent report that 8 million African Americans are not registered to vote brought gasps of disbelief, cries of shame and head-shaking reproach. It also stirred a mild soul search among blacks about how and why the numbers of unregistered voters are so appallingly high.

The figure was cited in September by Rick Wade, who handles African-American voter outreach for the Obama campaign, which was alarmed at the high number because of the potentially damaging effect it could have on Obama in a close contest. Bush’s razor-thin victories in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 underscore the importance of a maximum black voter turnout. But the problem of getting blacks to the polls may be even greater than the Obama campaign realizes, and that starts with the figure of 8 million unregistered voters. The number may be much higher.

According to Census figures, there were 28 million African-American adults aged 18 or over in 2006. In the 2004 presidential election, they made up 12 percent of the voters, or about 13 million voters. That means an estimated 15 million voting-age blacks did not vote. The ban on ex-felon voting in 15 states further ramps up the number of ineligible blacks. Forty percent of ex-felons banned from the polls are black males. They make up another 3 million potential black voters. That means there are an estimated 12 million African-American adults who are either officially barred from voting, or decline to vote.

The reason so many blacks don’t vote is chalked up to apathy, laziness, ignorance and cynicism toward politicians. By not voting, critics say, they betray the struggle and sacrifice of those who fought and in some cases died for the right of blacks to vote. This guilt-laden reprimand is much too simplistic.

In most state and local elections, only a tiny fraction of eligible voters of any race vote. With the exception of the hotly contested 2004 presidential contest between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the number of voters in presidential contests has steadily dropped during the past half century. Many say they don’t vote because their vote won’t change anything, anyway.

In the mid 1960s, a majority of eligible voters did vote. Two things changed that. One is the dominance of corporate and labor Political Action Committees in bankrolling politicians. Soaring election costs have turned races into a millionaire’s derby. The second thing that changed things is the subtle and at times overt suppression of minority voters. This includes stringent driver’s license or other ID checks, rigid timelines for filing voter applications, the lack of information or misinformation about voter registration forms and materials, and non-existent or feeble voter registration campaigns.

This reinforces the deep suspicion that politicians are for sale and the buyers are well-heeled special interests. As politicians became more dependent on corporate and union dollars, they appeared even more remote, inaccessible and unresponsive to voters’ needs. Elected officials made little or no effort to inform and engage their constituents on legislative actions, initiatives, and policy positions. This has further estranged millions of potential voters. The Republican and Democratic parties haven’t helped matters. The GOP’s decades of turning a cold shoulder to African Americans sent the message that blacks were not wanted or needed in the party. Democrats took the cue and downplayed any overt racial appeals for fear of being tagged as tilting toward minorities.

The two parties still largely confine their efforts to pad voter rolls to the last frantic weeks before Election Day. They scramble to register as many voters as possible, imploring voters to exercise their democratic right. This generally results in a temporary bump up in the voting rolls. But when Election Day passes, it is back to business as usual with no sustained effort to insure that the newly registered voters remain engaged in the political process.

In Europe, things are far different. Even though voting numbers have also dropped there, the numbers that do vote still put the United States to shame. The political parties wage intense campaigns, employ scores of party and campaign workers to get voters to the polls, make voting materials and registration simple, spend money on voter publications and materials, and provide ready access to TV and radio for the political parties to make their case. The message to voters is that their vote not only counts, but it’s in their political self-interest to vote. They have made voting a national responsibility.

To simply say that millions of African Americans don’t vote because of apathy and indifference ducks the problem. It lets officials of both parties off the hook for failing to make their flowery talk about restoring government to the people more than just a catchy campaign slogan shouted once every four years.

Related Articles:

Beyond the Ballot: Young Black Men and Voting

Eight Million Blacks Still Not Registered To Vote

Black Republicans Jumping GOP Ship

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User Comments

Walker on Oct 19, 2008 at 16:03:51 said:

I'm white and I want to talk to to the black folks. Don't you all think it's time to stop holding your hands out? Step up to a new standard! The people who say that the white man is holding you down has exactly zero self-esteem. Stop blaming someone else for where you are in your life and step up! In this country, no matter who our next president is, you have the ability to be who you want to be...stop whining! Do not vote for Obama just because he's black! That's a disgrace! Vote for him because you think his political positions will help move our country forward....STEP UP!

T on Oct 12, 2008 at 19:24:49 said:

Whether they vote or not, whether you vote or not is irrelevant. This is because most people will vote and complain. Meaning that millions of people will vote... then thousands will inform themselves on whats going on in our government... the half of them will go to political events( ex. city hall meetings/ school board meetings, county meetings, etc.). And only hundreds will protest in their own areas trying to make a difference while everyone else does nothing. Votes don't matter if you don't exercise your voice as a citizen. Of course, your candidate may win, but what about when they do things that you don't agree with. What about when they start a war with the wrong country? Or pass a law that violates your rights? So far, all people have done was complain. Complain at home, complain at work, complain on the internet. Only few people will protest, march, or even attending a city hall meeting. The public as a whole, does not take part in the day to day political process at all. We don't go to the school board meetings, or city hall meetings, or any or the political social event on a regular basis. Some won't even pick up a news paper, let alone read one. That combined with our government's inability to inform the public about these things helps to create the mess we're all in now. We all need to educate ourselves on the political process and the part we play in it. We need to do things right this time around. Vote for the person that will get us out of this mess. Vote for the person that holds your issues to heart. And take part in what's actually going on. Keep track of what decisions your government is making. Find out what your senators, governors, county officials, city officials, school boards, principals, etc. are doing.

kevin cole on Oct 11, 2008 at 11:12:34 said:

this is a once in a lifetime chance black folks and we still got 8 mill not voting!

Nicole on Oct 10, 2008 at 21:46:30 said:

I am African American. I really get tired of people thinking that it is a duty for people to vote. Why should I vote for anyone when I don't agree with either side? I also agree with Monty because the popular vote won't count, so how is your voice being heard? I also am tired of black people saying that we should vote just because we have a black man running for president.I think that black people shouldn't vote for Barack Obama just because he is black. You should vote for him because you agree with his political views. Also, people may say that we should vote because our ancestors fought for us to have this right. Our ancestors fought for us to have many rights but do we as blacks take advantage of all those rights? No. The right to vote is voluntary. Just because you don't vote that doesn't make you ignorant or lazy.

R.L. on Oct 10, 2008 at 21:46:23 said:

Black people get it together. Why be a minority when you can be the majority. My family are registered to vote. How dare you not vote, even if its not for Barack. You have the right and power to make history and you refuse because gas is not 1.50. If you do not vote do you know how much gas will be? Then you say you work 12 hour shifts do you know the way the economy is going you might not work at all. Please take in consideration of your actions. To be blunt you sound very ignorant and it's sad. Like leslie said thats an embarrassment to the whole entire black race. Chris im not trying to put u on blast but you are why other races look at blacks they way they do because they feel we are ignorant. I really hope that you get it together.

Brother's and sisters looking for change!

thompson on Oct 10, 2008 at 15:46:34 said:

dont believe it at all...this is another white people doing just to keep us DOWN!!

D Armand on Oct 10, 2008 at 13:15:29 said:

This is very disappointing.
You've given us two reasons why your not going to vote.
1) You feel like your vote doesn't matter anyway becuz Indiana is going vote republican.
2) You're tired of people telling you that a Black president is historical and that you're afraid that he's going let us down (make us look bad)...

This is what I can offer you.
1) You're right, Indiana has traditionally been republican strong hold (deep red), but this election Indiana has move toward "pink"... So my brotha...Every vote counts and in Indiana we especially need your vote.

2) You've given us 2 reasons why you're not going to exercise you're RIGHT to vote...
Let me give you why you should take the 5 minutes at the poles next month.

R.1) I've given you one already...Indiana may very well go to McCain, but lets make it as close as possible...That's lets see what the popular vote really is and that includes you.

R.2) Your thinking that Barack is going to let us down. But what if he does very well and indeed makes us proud. (The cup is half full) Besides, he couldn't do any worse than Bush has done over the last 8 years.

R.3) I would encourage you to vote becuz at your age (21), financial situation is directly tied to the next administration. The economic progress that you're looking for will never be achieved if you cannot make the connection between the policies of an administration and your bill fold.

R.4) "Your paychecks being the same..." I feel you! But, last year in 2007 the minimum wage was increased to $7.25 per hour. Future adjustments to the minimum wage will depend on next administration.

R.5) "1.50 for gas" NOW THAT'S IGNORANT!
A gallon of milk cost more that a gallon of gas! Those days are long gone brotha, but again the next 10 years is critical...One guy says drill-baby-drill and that's it and the other guys says drill but lets move to alternative fuels...You're not going to see $1.50 gas, but you may see $1.50 ethanol.

R.6) We gotta come up outta Iraq...
One guy says we may be there for 100 years, that Iran needs to be put in check, that North Korea...STOP! Get this...we've fought these guys already. We've fought Korea, we've fought Iraq, I don't think your pocket book can stand a 100 year conflict in Iraq or any where else for that matter.

So there, I've given you six reasons why you should vote. Voting is not just every 4 years though...you've gotta hold these politicians accountable at every level, all the way up to the president.

I'm not urging you to vote for Barack...but for your own sake vote for your pocket book; for the price of gas; vote for an opportunity; most importantly vote for you future.

So come on bro...PLEASE, PLEASE VOTE, with a cherry on top.

T.J. on Oct 10, 2008 at 11:10:48 said:

i know some blacks don't vote because of their religon.

Chris Monty on Oct 10, 2008 at 11:05:55 said:

I\'m Black and I\'m not voting for 2 reasons. 1 is I won\'t vote until it\'s switched to popular vote because my state is (Indiana) is going to vote Republican anyway and 2 I\'m tired of people telling me to vote for Obama just because he\'s black or vote for him so we can make history. If Obama fucks up then he\'s gonna make the whole race look bad. I\'m a working 21 year old and my pay checks are gonna be the same no matter which one of these fools become president. Unless one of them can promise to drop gas to &1.50 I ain\'t fuckin with em\'. Call it ignorance or laziness I really don\'t care because ya\'ll don\'t know me I work 12 hour shifts 6 days a week I\'m far from lazy I just really could care less about who\'s president.

Angie Lawson on Oct 10, 2008 at 09:47:51 said:


Courtney on Oct 10, 2008 at 09:09:23 said:

This article is really upsetting. This is my first election I'll be voting and I am so proud to be doing so. Some of my heritage is African American and to have Obama make it this far is truly monumental. I have always been proud to be an American but I am definitely proud NOW and to have people that are lazy and ignorant to the fact that every vote counts really disappoints me. Come on. Get it together people. The last day to register in new jersey is october 14th. Go to voteforchange.com to register.

Leslie on Oct 10, 2008 at 08:47:11 said:

These people are an embarrassment to the whole entire black race. They must all live in the ghetto and are content on staying there.

s. on Oct 10, 2008 at 07:42:05 said:

That is embarrasing to me considering im black. People died so that we can have the right to vote and lazy black ppl jus sit on their behind and do nothing. if obama doesnt win then i know i did my part and so did my family cause we're voting no matter what. this is such an important election and i would have thought that voter registration would have been in record numbers. if you cant vote legally, thats one thing, but to have the right and not take it to see the first black president that makes me embarrased to be black




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