Why Black And Hispanic Citizens Are Being Left Out Of Voter Registration Drives

Ballots envelopes sit in a bin prepared to give voters inside a polling center at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s office, in Boulder, Colo., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BRENNAN LINSLEY
Ballots envelopes sit in a bin prepared to give voters inside a polling center at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s office, in Boulder, Colo., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BRENNAN LINSLEY

The number of Americans excluded from the political process may be even larger than previously thought. A new study released Thursday shows that at least 11 percent of the U.S. adult population is “unlisted,” meaning they are not included on voter registration lists and therefore are not targeted by get out the vote (GOTV) efforts.

The Stanford University study found that one in five African American and Hispanic citizens are unlisted and do not appear in any consumer files, compared to just 8 percent of white citizens. Unlisted Americans earn less income and are less likely to have health insurance. They are also far more likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

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“We find that if unregistered and unlisted people voted at comparable rates to registered people with the same level of interest in politics, both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections would have been won by Democrats,” the study’s authors, Simon Jackman and Bradley Spahn, wrote.

The absence of these unlisted voters leads to a whiter, older, more conservative electorate, according to the study, which relied on data from the 2012 American National Election Studies surveys. Blacks and Hispanics have higher residential mobility, meaning they are more likely to be unlisted.

The median age of voters in the 2012 presidential election was 50, while the median age of an unlisted American is just 30.

“We conclude that a reliance on lists in contemporary American politics diminishes the political power of minorities, the poor and tilts policy and election outcomes in a more conservative, more Republican direction,” the study said.

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Recent Democratic political campaigns, most notably President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, have focused much of their time and money on GOTV efforts. But even advanced pollsters, campaigns and other election volunteers are unable to contact or locate unlisted people because they are invisible to the political process. Even if GOTV efforts focus on every listed and unregistered potential voter, they would still be missing out on roughly 11 percent of the population.

Several states have led the effort in instating automatic voter registration, but even those initiatives rely on lists of potential voters who have driver’s licenses. Earlier this year, Oregon became the first state to automatically register its voters and lawmakers including Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have proposed doing something similar on a national level.

The study — which calls the lack of attention on unlisted voters a “market failure” — could have a significant impact on how the future Democratic nominee conducts his or her campaign. And the effort could be crucial to swinging the election. The study found that 73 percent of unlisted voters in 2012 said they supported Obama over challenger Mitt Romney.