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Last week, before unified Republican opposition blocked a voting rights bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about his caucus’ objections. He suggested that such legislation was unnecessary.
Specifically, McConnell was asked what he’d say to voters of color who were concerned that they might not be able to vote in this year’s election.
“Well, the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” McConnell responded during the Jan. 19 press session.
“This is not a problem,” he added.
His response was quickly criticized by some on the left who said that McConnell was saying that African Americans aren’t Americans.
Focusing on McConnell’s poor word choice obscures the bigger problem with his answer: It isn’t accurate.
He’s right that turnout was very high in the 2020 presidential election, but he left out a lot of crucial details.
In that election, 70.9 percent of white voters cast ballots compared with only 58.4 percent of nonwhite voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting data. About 63 percent of Black voters cast ballots in 2020.
The gap between turnout among white voters and non-white voters has actually grown since 1996, when the center began tracking this data. In that year, there was a roughly 9 percentage point gap between the turnout of white and non-white voters. In 2016, the gap was 12.6 percent; it was 12.5 percent in 2020.
This, despite McConnell’s claims to the contrary, is a problem.
Another study, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that during the 2016 presidential election, residents of entirely Black neighborhoods waited 29 percent longer to vote and were 74 percent more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place rela-
tive to residents of entirely white neighborhoods.
Problems persisted into 2020, when voters, especially in urban areas that tend to be home to more non-white residents, had to wait to vote at fewer polling places. Some polling place consolidation was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but researchers have identified ongoing efforts to reduce polling places across the country, with or without increases in mail-in ballots.
These efforts especially hurt voters without cars, which again has disproportionate racial impact. While only 8 percent percent of white registered voters didn’t have access to transportation, more than a quarter of Black registered voters didn’t have a car in their household, according to a recent study of voters in Michigan. Two-thirds of voters with access to a car voted in the 2018 general election. But only 36 percent of voters without access to a car voted.
The Brennan Center chronicled other changes in 2020 – such as purges of voter roles, tighter voter ID requirements and voter intimidation – that depressed participation among non-white voters.
With additional restrictive laws enacted in many states since the November 2020 election, the center predicted that the disparities between white and non-white participation will worsen.