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African Americans Could Benefit From States' Rush to Early Primaries

New Report from The Century Foundation Details How African Americans Could Have Significant Influence in 2008 Presidential Election


Contact: Christy Hicks, 212-452-7723,


NEW YORK, June 29 /Standard Newswire/ -- Democratic candidates are focusing much attention on the African American vote during this presidential primary season - including during last night's televised debate from Howard University, which focused on issues of particular concern to those in the African American community. While the fact that African American support is split mainly between frontrunners Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama is one obvious reason for this strategy, there is another, lesser-known one: with the rush by as many as thirty states to hold their primaries by February 5, 2008, African Americans will have a much greater voice in the nominating process than ever before.


In "Frontloading the Primaries: African Americans No Longer Marginalized," a new issue brief from The Century Foundation, democracy fellow and election reform expert Tova Wang examines the important role that African Americans could play in the early primaries being held in a large number of states. While concerns about the adverse effects of extreme "frontloading" on the democratic process are both legitimate and troublesome, this brief, and the previous one in the series, "Frontloading the Primaries:A Silver Lining-Latinos Get a Vote," reveal that this trend could give minority voters - particularly African Americans and Latinos - a bigger say in the selection of presidential nominees.


According to the brief, African Americans comprise a significant percentage of the voting age population in fourteen of the states that have scheduled or are considering primaries on or before February 5. They account for between 10 percent and 27 percent of potential voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. African American voters represent particularly high percentages of Democratic primary voters in some potential early primary states, notably 47 percent in South Carolina, 23 percent in Tennessee, 21 percent in Florida and Texas, and 20 percent in New York. A greater number of African American voters participating in early primaries could not only affect the outcomes, but also the topics the candidates focus on, including health care, wage and labor issues, crime and international affairs.


In "Frontloading the Primaries: African Americans No Longer Marginalized," Wang discusses ideas that voting rights advocates and civic organizations might consider to make the most of this potential African American participation in the voting process. These strategies might include:


  • A more intense focus on voter registration drives in time for the primaries, as well as the general election


  • Making greater use of the Web and mainstream media, rather than focusing mostly on the African American press for voter registration and turnout campaigns. Evidence shows that African Americans are increasingly using these other media for news and political information.


  • Putting more resources into face-to-face contact, particularly from an African American campaign representative. Studies show this is the best way to turn out votes in that community, as it is for other communities. There should be more focus on this method than on telephone calls.


Wang argues that, in order to maximize participation among African Americans as well as other groups, the structural barriers to participation also must be addressed:


  • States should institute certain election reforms that have been proposed by civil rights and voting rights groups to address issues that have been shown to suppress votes in minority communities, including names not showing up on the registration list, long lines at the polls, and problems with poll workers.


  • States should resist rules requiring voter identification at the polls or proof of citizenship when registering, which studies show will disproportionately disenfranchise African American and other minority voters.


  • States should make it simpler to register to vote by complying with legal requirements that registration forms be consistently disseminated at public service agencies; instituting registration programs for high school seniors and new citizens; and simplifying voter registration forms.


  • States must be extremely careful when "cleaning" their registration rolls so as not to allow administrative error to result in legitimate voters being taken off the rolls.


  • States should institute same-day registration.


  • States and the federal government should outlaw deceptive practices, which almost always target communities of color and include the dissemination through flyers, phone calls, and mailings, of false - or intimidating - information about voting rights and procedures.


  • States should be required to develop a master plan for the fair and equitable distribution of voting machines and poll workers.


  • Legislators should consider making Election Day a national holiday, or polling hours could be uniformly expanded.


  • States with policies of disenfranchisement of ex-felons who have served their terms should be called upon to reform these laws, which disproportionately impact African Americans.


"Frontloading the Primaries: African Americans No Longer Marginalized" is the third in a series of briefs on issues related to the frontloading of the primaries. Other briefs in the series include:


  • "Frontloading the Primaries: A Silver Lining - Latinos Get a Vote"


  • "Frontloading the Primaries: The Presidential Primary System's Democracy Problems"


These briefs can be downloaded from or, The Century Foundation's election reform project site. Tova Wang is available to discuss these reports and other election reform issues. For more information, contact Christy Hicks at or 212-452-7723.