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RELEASE: 50 Years After Freedom Summer, Report Shows that Communities of Color Can Shift the Balance of Power in ‘Black Belt’ States

Written by Featured Organization on 16 June 2014.

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, in conjunction with an event exploring the subject, 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. 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.

The report finds that a massive wave of voter registration for people of color would yield significant results. These are some of the report’s findings:

  • In Georgia, gubernatorial candidates have won the past three governor’s races with a net average margin of 260,703 votes. According to CAP’s analysis, there are an estimated 692,100 eligible unregistered blacks living in the state. Registering 60 percent of these eligible voters would create 292,000 new black voters, after accounting for turnout rates. Additionally, registering 60 percent of the estimated 895,700 eligible unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters in the state would create 369,200 new voters, exceeding the aforementioned margin of victory.
  • In South Carolina, gubernatorial candidates have won the past three governor’s races with a net average margin of 79,021 votes. According to CAP’s analysis, there are an estimated 259,600 eligible unregistered blacks living in the state. Registering 60 percent of these eligible voters would create 116,900 new black voters, after accounting for turnout rates. Additionally, registering 60 percent of the estimated 296,900 eligible unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters in the state would create 128,800 new voters, exceeding the aforementioned margin of victory.
  • In Florida, gubernatorial candidates have won the past three governor’s races with a net average margin of 352,841 votes. According to CAP’s analysis, there are an estimated 663,200 eligible unregistered blacks living in the state. Registering 60 percent of these eligible voters would create 268,300 new black voters, after accounting for turnout rates. Additionally, registering 60 percent of the estimated 1,574,800 eligible unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters in the state would create 603,500 new voters, exceeding the aforementioned margin of victory.

“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.”

Read the report: True South: Advancing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer by Ben Jealous

Watch the event livestream starting at 10:30am EST here.

For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, contact Tanya Arditi at 202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org.

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The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

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