Young Voter Turnout and the Supreme Court



Georgia has seen a significant drop in Black voter turnout, specifically among young voters, since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which removed a requirement for jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before changing voting laws. Studies have suggested that this drop in turnout is linked to changes in voting laws and regulations that have been enacted since the ruling. While some argue that changes such as limiting mail-in voting and reducing polling venues would affect older voters more, research shows that younger, less established voters are more likely to be deterred or prevented from voting.

Georgia’s Historic Voter Suppression and Turnout Trends

Georgia, known for its historic suppression of Black voters, has witnessed long-standing battles over voting rights laws. The state often sees disparities in turnout between white and nonwhite communities, who usually vote at lower rates.

In the 2012 election, when Barack Obama secured a second term, Black voter turnout under 38 in Lowndes County, a Republican-leaning area, actually exceeded the rate for white voters of the same age by four percentage points. However, by 2020, the turnout for younger white voters in Lowndes was 14 percentage points higher than for Black voters of the same age, according to new research by Michael Podhorzer, former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Impact of 2013 Supreme Court Decision

A growing body of evidence suggests a pivotal 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which dismantled a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, played a significant role in voter turnout. The decision ended a provision needing counties and states with past racial discrimination at polls, including Georgia, to seek Justice Department approval before altering voting laws or procedures.

New Studies on Voter Suppression

Political scientists and civil rights leaders have argued that the high court’s decision could lead to the resurgence of voter suppression. Two new studies, including research from the Brennan Center, support this theory, finding that the gap in turnout rates between white and nonwhite voters “grew almost twice as quickly in formerly covered jurisdictions as in other parts of the country with similar demographic and socioeconomic profiles.”

Voter Turnout in 2024

Engaging the youth vote is crucial for President Biden, who won 60 percent of voters under 30 in 2020, according to exit polls, forming a key part of his coalition. However, the 2022 midterms saw a downturn in the youth vote, and young voters have expressed discontent with the president heading into this year’s election.

Bernard Fraga, a professor of political science at Emory University, notes that seeing a larger racial turnout gap in young voters aligns with previous literature about who should be most impacted by these laws. “For populations that have historically been disenfranchised, or are just less likely to turn out to vote, small changes in the voting calculus can have a much bigger impact,” Fraga said.

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