Washington, D.C. — Fifty years after Freedom Summer sparked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, a new report released today by the Center for American Progress examines how current demographic and political changes in heavily black southern states could upset the balance of power in many of the country’s so-called “Black Belt” states, including Virginia.
The report analyzes 13 Black Belt states that are still defined by racial polarization: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In these Black Belt states—which each contain a black population of at least 10 percent—voters of color continue to be locked out of statewide politics, and candidates of color rarely get elected to statewide office. However, as outlined in the report, a massive wave of voter registration could trigger a major shift in the country’s political landscape that would shake up the status quo and create a more inclusive Black Belt.
According to the analysis, registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states. Meanwhile, registering 60 percent of unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters would upset the balance of power in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas in presidential or midterm election year. In a presidential election year, Alabama would be added to that list.
“As we prepare for 2014, the majority of states in the South are marred by new voter suppression laws and old patterns of political exclusion,” said Ben Jealous, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the report. ”Fifty years later, the legacy of Freedom Summer reminds us that the antidote to each is a sustained wave of massive voter registration. Moreover, given the ongoing political and demographic changes in the Black Belt, large investments in voter registration could dramatically shift the balance of power and unleash democracy in states that have historically resisted it.”
The report finds that a massive wave of voter registration for people of color would yield significant results. In Virginia, gubernatorial candidates have won the past three governor’s races with a net average margin of 58,168 votes. However, according to CAP’s analysis, there are an estimated 469,900 eligible unregistered blacks living in the state. Registering 30 percent of these eligible voters would create 95,600 new black voters, after accounting for turnout rates. Additionally, there are an estimated 679,800 eligible unregistered blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in Virginia. Registering 30 percent of these eligible voters would create 129,000 new voters, exceeding the aforementioned margin of victory.
Read the report: True South: Advancing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer by Ben Jealous
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