• The Voter Formation Project

Election 2021: What We Learned

Hey, y’all! Happy Friday.

ICYMI, there were some big elections this week. That’s right: in 35 states, November 2nd, 2021 was Election Day. We’re going to talk about what happened (at least, what we know so far), and what it means for groups like the Voter Formation Project moving into the 2021 midterms.

(Joshua Roberts | Reuters)

First, remind me what these elections were all about.

We’re glad you asked. There were a *ton* of important seats up for election on Tuesday, up and down the ballot across many states: from mayoral races in some of America’s biggest cities to gubernatorial races in some of our most populous states. Off-year elections are a weird quirk of America’s electoral system (by “weird quirk”, we mean a system designed specifically to suppress the votes of Black and Brown Americans), and, unsurprisingly, they usually see *much* lower turnout than elections held in on-years (presidential or midterm election years, where federal offices are on the ballot).

We’re going to focus specifically on Virginia, which we talked about in a lot more depth last week. As a refresher (even though we know you read every week!), Virginia dramatically expanded ballot access last year with the passage of the Virginia Voting Rights Act, and this was the first election with those new reforms in place.

So what happened?

Two words: record turnout. The turnout rate in Tuesday’s election in Virginia was the highest since at least 1997. Over 55% of the state’s voters cast ballots, which, for an off-year election, is absolutely massive. For a point of comparison, it’s not uncommon for off-year elections in Texas to see turnout rates as low as 6%.

That sounds great. What’s the catch?

You know us too well. There’s usually a catch, and this time is no different. Although overall statewide turnout in Virginia was up almost 8% over 2017 (the state’s last gubernatorial election, which also smashed turnout records), the story changes when you start digging into the numbers.

An analysis of precinct data shows that between 2017 and 2021, turnout fell:

  • 1.5% in Virginia’s 14 most proportionately Black precincts*,

  • 1.2% in Virginia’s most proportionately Latino precincts**, and

  • 10.7% in Virginia’s 8 most proportionately youth / campus precincts***.

*Richmond 602, Newport News 308, Portsmouth 011, Portsmouth 013, Henricho 206, Henricho 224, Newport News 304, Suffolk 605, Suffolk 404, Newport News 302, Brunswick 401, Newport News 310, Suffolk 403

**Manassas Park 002, Bath 501, Arlington 043, Prince William 606, Prince William 711, Manassas 002, Prince William 707, Prince William 705, Fairfax 515, Loudon 702, Prince William 106

*** Richmond City 214, Montgomery County 503, Albermarle 202, Harrisonburg City 105, Hampton 105, Fairfax County 134

That’s a pretty big catch!

Agreed. It’s central to the Voter Formation Project’s mission that the electorate looks as much like the country as it possibly can. And right now, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work left to be done on that front. So we promise that we’re going to continue doing the work: continue reaching underrepresented voters at every opportunity, and continue making sure they have every single voting resource that we can possibly give them.

And luckily, we’re not alone: there are dozens of other groups doing incredible work in this space, and we’re lucky to partner with a number of them to make sure our message gets to as many voters as possible. So, while this year’s turnout made clear just how far we have to go, we’re so excited to keep moving, in 2022 and beyond.

Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.

“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin