African-American voters in Baltimore City will likely trickle to the polls in June if Black leaders do not ramp up efforts to educate and mobilize those voters, election experts say.
“Black politicians are obligated to register and educate Black voters [but] you don’t see Black politicians in Baltimore aggressively turning out the vote,” said Raymond Winbush, director, Institute of Urban Research at Morgan State University.
“A lot of Black politicians actually don’t want Black voters to turn out because they may not get re-elected,” he added.
According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, Baltimore City’s voting age population is decreasing.
In 2012, there were 459,555 citizens of voting age (18+) in Baltimore—almost 16,000 fewer than in 2000. Of those, 291,210 (63.3 percent) were of African-American or of Black biracial descent.
However, voter registration seems to be increasing, a Baltimore election official said.
As of Feb. 6, 2014, there were close to 400,000 voters on the rolls, according to Armstead Jones Sr., election director of the Baltimore City Board of Elections. Comparatively, in the 2012 presidential election cycle, 324,344 Baltimoreans registered to vote in the April primary and 392,584 registered to vote in the November contest.
“The numbers are looking good…. We were down for a while,” Jones said.
In Baltimore and nationally in the race between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Black voters outstripped their counterparts in voter registration and turnout at the polls.
Using data from the Maryland Board of Elections and the Maryland Department of Planning, the AFRO compared patterns in the top 10 predominantly Black and the top 10 predominantly White voting precincts.
The precinct with the highest majority of voting-age African Americans was 26029, with 4,007. Comparing that figure with the total number of eligible registered Democrats in that precinct—since Blacks tend to vote almost exclusively Democratic—yields a Black voter registration rate of 75 percent in the 2012 primaries and 81.2 percent in the General Election.
The precinct with the largest number of voting-age Whites, 27045, has a comparative number of individuals – 4,124 – to its Black counterpart. But its voter registration rate was significantly lower at 34.2 percent in the primaries and 41.6 percent in the November race.
But that precinct seemed to be an outlier. Making those comparisons across the top 10 Black and White precincts, we find that there were a total of 31,426 voting-age Blacks, 76 percent of whom were likely registered in the primary and 80 percent of whom likely registered in the General Election.
On the other hand, there were 28,310 persons of voting age in the majority White precincts, 61 percent of whom likely registered in the 2012 primaries and 81.7 of whom likely registered in the General Election.
The numbers—and what they say about Black voter power—are remarkable, particularly in light of the fact that Blacks comprise about 64 percent of Baltimore’s population and Whites, a little more than 31 percent.
Blacks do not wield as much political power as their numbers should command, the power they demonstrated in their influence on the outcome of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Nationally, 1.7 million more African Americans voted, and did so at a higher rate (66.2 percent) than non-Hispanic Whites (64.1 percent) for the first time since 1996.
And while the state and city election boards don’t collect voter registration and turnout information per precinct and by race, overall, data shows that 253,500 registered voters in Baltimore —64.6 percent, which was higher than the national rate of 61.8 percent—cast ballots in the 2012 presidential showdown.
But the high turnout in those contest will likely not be repeated in this year’s mid-term elections, experts said.
“Most Black voters in Baltimore are registered but most Black voters don’t vote,” Winbush, the Morgan State professor, said.
He continued, “Most people vote during national elections—that’s when you see the biggest turnouts. Voting in off-year or mid-term elections, however,[is] lower” particularly among African-American voters.
For example, in the 2011 mayoral race in Baltimore 76.3 percent of voting age individuals in the 10 precincts with the highest majority of African Americans registered to vote, compared to 63.3 percent of persons in precincts with majority White populations.
But turnout at the polls was the most abysmal the city had witnessed in years. Only a little more than 77,000 of 324,349 registered voters--23.72 percent, down from 28 percent in 2007—turned out for the September primary. And the numbers spiraled even lower for the November general election with 49,463 out of 372,888 registered voters –13.28 percent – showing up at the polls.
Similarly, in the 2010 gubernatorial race when then-incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley ran against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, only 21.49 percent of registered Baltimore voters turned up at the polls in the primary and 41.57 percent showed up in the general election.
Jones, the city election official, predicts turnout to follow a similar trend in this year.
“We have six early voting stations now [but] I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of business,” he said. Early voting runs June 12-19.
“If people are totally disgusted by whoever’s been in office, they may turn out, but there also has to be a viable alternative choice, a candidate they feel they can support,” Jones continued. “It just depends on morale.”
And from what he’s heard in his interactions with the public, Jones added, voter morale seems to be low.
“A lot of voters are just not happy with what’s going on but feel that they can’t make a difference, that their vote doesn’t count,” he said.
Winbush said it is up to politicians—particularly Democrats in the case of African Americans—to energize voters.
“Black people traditionally vote Democrat and Republicans turn out their vote in mid-term elections more so than Democrats. Democrats in Baltimore have to target the Black vote,” he said.