Black History Month, Data, and Voter Registration

As we conclude Black History Month, it is important to recognize and honor Black Americans who have significantly contributed to our nation’s fabric and culture, including the activists who have fought for civil rights, voting rights, and constitutional protections for all. Equal political representation for Black Americans has served as a cornerstone for maintaining this progress, which means ensuring their voice is heard at the voting booth.

In Kansas, approximately 89% of the voting age population (VAP) is registered to vote, and on average, Black Kansas account for 7.3% of the VAP at the census tract level. If you look only at census tracts that have a smaller Black population than the average, the voter registration percentage is 87.1% – which means that areas with a smaller Black population have a higher percentage of registered voters. Extending this one step further, areas with a larger Black population than the mean see a 13% drop in voter registration, down to 74.9%. 

This represents a significant indicator of disparity, but interestingly, it is not a straight linear decrease. The chart above shows the percentage of the VAP that is registered to vote in a census tract, versus the percentage of the VAP that is Black. And as we can see, the areas with the lowest percentage of Black population (left side) has a very high registration, and as the percentage of Black population approaches the mean (around 7.3%), registration falls to the lower 70% registration rate. 

But – as the percentage of the Black VAP increases for a given area, so does the registration rate. These data tell a clear story: as Black population reach a more critical mass in a given community, the more that community can leverage organizing and resources to increase voter registration. 

Data can be a powerful tool in every aspect of our daily lives, including the organizing of individuals with common interests and common objectives. The heroes we honor during Black History Month did not have the luxury of endless data streams and analysis techniques, making their remarkable achievements all the more impressive. All the more reason that we owe it to their legacy to employ the tools at our disposal to further their significant accomplishments.