While going over the exit polling from Mississippi for the Election, something jumped out at me when observing the cross-tabs for race and gender: the fact that the gender gap in voter turnout for blacks was double that of whites. The gender gap regardless of race exists likely for several reasons, including women’s longer life expectancies. With the 2000 Election debacle in mind (along with Gov. Crist’s rather surprising push to reform the law), I looked here to see which states have the most stringent (i.e., repressive and racist; see here) anti-felon voting laws, and the bulk of them are ex-slave states.
Anti-felon voting laws are part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in this country because they disproportionately affect black men’s ability to vote. The following is a chart examining the gender gap for blacks and whites in selected states with the toughest voting laws regarding felons (note: each number listed represents the percentage of the total voter turnout for the state; women are listed first for each category):
AL— 33-32% 18-11%
AR— 45-37 7-6
GA— 32-33 19-11
KY— 44-41 7-4
LA— 36-30 19-10
MS— 33-29 21-13
MO— 44-38 7-5
NC— 37-35 14-9
SC— 37-34 14-11
TN— 42-42 9-3
VA— 38-32 10-10
So in Mississippi, for example, where “many” felons can never vote again in the state, black men made-up 13 percent of the total vote, eight points below that of black women. Although white women also made-up a higher percentage of the total vote than white men, the difference was only four percent. Meanwhile, the gender gaps in states like Louisiana and Tennessee were even higher. There are some disparities in the data, perhaps based on other factors (e.g., Obama’s time and money spent in the state, such as Virginia) or the variations in the anti-felon laws (e.g., the laws are less restrictive in the Carolinas than in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama).
Still, the important analysis put forth by Charles Franklin (see here) may shed light on the issue of white fear and its relationship to the percentage of blacks in the population. It appears that the higher the proportion of the black population, the more severe the anti-felon voting laws are in that state. Imagine if the gender gap for blacks had not existed in this election…in a state like Mississippi (where Obama won the black vote 98-2), perhaps that increased black turnout could have made the difference in the outcome. What do you think?
I still don’t understand why felons can’t vote and I don’t understand how states can have such different laws about it. They are still citizens and are really directly affected by who is in power. I got the July/August issue of Mother Jones from the library recently and it discussed prisons.
It gave me some interesting facts, such as 1 in 9 Black men between the ages of of 20 and 34 and 1 in 100 Americans, in general, are locked up. That’s a lot of people to not allow to vote.
Good question, Melissa. I think the data suggest clearly racist, emotion-laden actions in preventing felons from voting, esp. in the southern states where whites demonstrated in this election they are overwhelmingly fearful of a black candidate — even as they face huge job and housing and health care losses. Racist framing is highly emotional, not just about cognitive stereotyping.