A record number of African-Americans voted in 2008 with Barack Obama on the presidential ballot, but even that historic occasion exposed a glaring disparity in voter participation: Black men vote at sharply lower rates than other groups.
Another 70,000 votes would have been cast in Georgia's 2008 general election if black men voted at the same rate as black women.
Republican John McCain would have still won the state, even if every one of those votes went for Obama; McCain carried Georgia by more than 200,000 votes. But the gap speaks to larger issues of race, community and the health of America's democracy.
Here are the numbers:
- Only 63 percent of eligible black men in Georgia are registered to vote, compared to 76 percent of black women and 75 percent of whites;
- Of those registered to vote, 70 percent of black men actually cast a ballot in the 2008 general election, compared to 80 percent of black women, 78 percent of white women and 76 percent of white men.
Those figures come from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Georgia Secretary of State.
The explanation for the disparity in voting between black men and women is complicated. But for many black Georgia men who do vote, no explanation is sufficient.
"There was a struggle to just get the opportunity to participate and make a change in the way you live and the your families live," said Rod Harris, 39, of Atlanta. "It's my duty as an African-American male to vote, to participate."
Instead of "complaining," Harris said, "I vote to make a difference."
Anthony Watson, 41, of Lithonia, learned the importance of voting from his mother, who marched in the Civil Rights movement.
"People died for the right to vote," Watson said. "Ever since I was 18, I voted in every presidential election. I vote in every election, period, now."
Those who don't vote, Watson said, are "selfish."
"A lot of people don't feel a part of this country," he said.
For every Harris or Watson, there is another black man in Georgia who doesn't vote. Most of them aren't registered. Some are like Decario Jeffery, a 19-year-old from Atlanta, who said he wasn't sure how old you have to be to vote.
Told that voters had to be 18, Jeffery said he might try to register in time to vote in November (the deadline is Tuesday). Asked if he thought his vote could make a difference, Jeffery said, "It might. It might not."
And there is the problem, said Nancy Flake Johnson, president of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta.
When all is said and done, she said, are "people that get out to the polls believe their vote counts and makes a difference and it can change things."
SOURCE: Aaron Gould Sheinin
Atlanta Journal Constitution