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The Mystery of Lower Voter Registration for Older Black Voters

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. (Yoichi R. Okamoto)
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. (Yoichi R. Okamoto)

Nate Cohn, THE NEW YORK TIMES

(The New York Times)—Last month, I wrote an article titled “Evidence That the Jim Crow Era Endures for Older Black Voters in the South.” The article, based on voter registration and census data in Georgia, noted that older black voters who reached voting age before the passage of the Voting Rights Act were significantly less likely to be registered to vote compared with whites of similar age and black voters who reached voting age in the years afterward.

The implication, I wrote, was that black registration and turnout rates were suppressed by the lingering effects of Jim Crow laws, which disenfranchised African-American voters. The evidence underlying that statement is research suggesting that voting is a habit. Therefore, someone with fewer opportunities to register and vote should be less likely to vote than a similar person who had more opportunities.

It is somewhat more complicated. Data and analysis from four political scientists suggest that the lower rate of registration among older black voters might not be because of disenfranchisement under Jim Crow.

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