Black Voter Turnout Staggeringly Low in Baltimore City

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At most, 36 percent of Black registered voters in Baltimore City voted in the 2014 General Election.Albert Shaw

Based on early exit poll data, the AFRO calculates a rough estimate of only 27.7 percent of voting age Blacks cast their ballots in Baltimore City. The experts predict that the actual number is likely much lower based on structural obstacles to voting as well as general voter apathy.

According to Dr. John Bullock, assistant professor of political science at Towson University, that 27.7 percent figure likely significantly overstates the percentage of Blacks that actually turned out to vote.

“Blacks actually tend to turn out less,” said Bullock, who notes that not only do a higher proportion of Whites tend to vote than Blacks, but that persons with higher income, education and who are older also vote at a more consistent rate. He indicated that Blacks in highly impoverished Baltimore City likely turned out at a rate even lower than the dismal 27.7 percent the AFRO was able to calculate based on available data.

Bullock says that many factors affect Black voter turnout in Baltimore. He notes that some of the common challenges are structural issues, such as general apathy and ineligibility to vote for convicted felons. Bullock believe the biggest issue is a lack of progress in people’s lived daily realities.

“I think [the low turnout] has to do with the conditions that people have lived under for a number of years,” said Bullock. “They may look at their neighborhoods, their schools and public services, and [they may] not see much of a change whether they vote or not. So they figure, ‘Well, why vote anyway?’”

For Catalina Byrd, an elections consultant who has worked with a number of campaigns in the state of Maryland, she says that Baltimore’s generational dynamics play an important role in suppressing turnout. Byrd notes that many older voters disengaged from the electoral process because they felt betrayed by the lack of progress under previous generation of Black civic leaders.

“A byproduct of this is that [the older generation] didn’t teach their children the importance, or instill a value in the voting process, in their children,” explained Byrd.  “So you have the next generation now not even being pushed to vote,and having to find reasons on their own to vote.”

For persons between 18 and 29, says Byrd, the priorities and demands of young adulthood often overtake any imperative to become engaged in the electoral process.  This disengagement is then exacerbated by campaigns that focus their energy on traditional voters to the neglect of potential future supporters.

“It’s always funny because everybody does voter registration—those new voters never get any outreach because [campaigns] don’t anticipate that they’re going to vote. . . . Democrats in Baltimore City don’t vote, they just register.”

To see how we reached our figure of 27.7 percent, visit www.afro.com.

 

Note:

Because there is no data available tracking votes cast by race, it was necessary to make a number of assumptions to reach our figure of 27.7 percent Black turnout relative the Black voting age population.  To arrive at the 27.7 percent figure, the AFRO used the following methodology: First, We took the reported total number of votes cast for governor in Baltimore City (135,787) and calculated 63.3 percent of that figure in order to arrive at the approximate total of Black votes cast (85,953 votes). Sixty-three and three-tenths percent is the percentage of Baltimore’s population who identified as Black or African American in the last census.

The AFRO then calculated the Black voting age population by taking the census’s most recent population estimate for the city (622,104 residents) and multiplying that figure by .789 (representing the 78.9 percent of the city’s population that the census estimates is of voting age). That figure yielded 490,840 voting age residents in the city of Baltimore, from which we took 63.3 percent in order to estimate a total of 310,702 voting age Black Baltimoreans.

Next, we calculated the percentage from the 85,953 estimated Black votes represented out of the total 310,702 person voting age Black population to arrive at 27.7 percent.  The methodology is flawed in a number of obvious ways. First, the assumptions require that  Blacks vote in proportion to their share of the population. Second, the figure would have to denote that the total Black share of Baltimore’s population is consistent among persons both over and under 18. However flawed, the assumptions were necessary in light of the limitations of available data. The figure is only as a very rough estimate of the turnout in last week’s election relative the city’s Black voting age population.

Based on available data, 36 percent of registered voters cast a vote for governor in 2014.  Assuming Blacks vote in proportion to their share of the city’s population, we estimate that 36 percent of Black registered voters cast a vote this year as well.  We know, however, that Black registrations do not reflect their population share, so that 36 percent figure is an even higher overestimation than our 27.7 percent calculation for voting age Blacks.