Redlining Was Banned Over 50 Years Ago. It Still Makes Voting Difficult for Black Americans Today.

Supermajority Education Fund

October 6, 2020

Black and minority communities across the United States consistently face barriers to voting that their white counterparts generally don’t. A 2019 Washington University study found that minority communities are more likely to have poor signage at polling places, untrained or poorly trained poll workers, faulty or insufficient voting equipment, and lack of voter assistance. A 2020 Brennan Center study found that Black voters wait 45 minutes longer than white voters on average, and that Black voters also found it three times more difficult to locate polling places on Election Day, partially due to frequently moving polling sites. 

While the issues that contribute to voter suppression in Black communities are numerous, there is one that has perhaps been the most historically stealthy and consistent: redlining, a practice by which banks have denied mortgages to creditworthy Black Americans based purely on where they lived. Essentially, since the 1930s, homeownership was nearly impossible in Black communities. 

“[Redlining] made certain communities more attractive to whites by forcing African Americans to live on the most undesirable, cheap, underdeveloped lands. That was really the key to impacting them in a very very negative and harmful way,” Dr. Henry Taylor, Director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, told Supermajority News

Redlining was banned in 1968 when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, or sex.

The bill, which passed by a thin margin, was voted into law the same week civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. It is often seen as one of the great legislative achievements of the civil rights era.

Unfortunately, the effects of this racist practice still persist today. Many historically redlined communities are still extremely racially segregated and experience low homeownership rates, home values and credit scores.

These factors tend to dictate the quality of resources given to certain voting precincts, says David Kimball, Professor of Political Science at Missouri University. Thanks to the racial segregation created by redlining, these neighborhoods are easy to identify and target for voter suppression tactics. 

“Many Black Americans live in urban areas where election administration is stretched thin to a greater degree than in many other places. And so particularly urban areas, election officials struggle to find enough resources,” Kimball told Supermajority News.  

Besides inadequate voting resources, many states have seen sweeping poll closures in minority communities, which are easier to target thanks to widespread neighborhood racial segregation caused by redlining. 

When the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, states were no longer required to prove that they were not closing polling locations as an act of racial discrimination. Almost immediately, officials across 13 states shuttered nearly 1,700 voting precincts, mainly in red states such as Texas, Georgia, and Arizona. According to a report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, many of these shutdowns targeted black and Latino communities

“For many people, and particularly for voters of color, older voters, rural voters, and voters with disabilities, these burdens make it harder — and sometimes impossible — to vote,” the study states. 

When the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights began investigating the reasons behind these closures, they concluded that these voting procedure changes disproportionately limit minority citizens’ ability to vote — a motivator for the incumbent conservative politicians in these states, according to the study.

In other words, disenfranchising minority voters is a tactic used to keep conservative politicians in office. 

“Across the country, the greatest concern [when it comes to fair voting rights] is centered around changing the locations or closing the number of polling stations,” Taylor told Supermajority News. “Voters in underdeveloped neighborhoods have to rely on public transportations or rides from friends. These barriers make voting much harder.” 

“The U.S. creates a myth of being a democratic society,” says Taylor. “And at the same time, it goes out of its way to make voting a challenge. To me, this is about: are we really a democracy or not? And I think that’s the kind of question that comes to the forefront every year we go through this cycle of voting.”