With a very small African-American population and not having even been a state at the time that most of the barriers to black participation were adopted, Oklahoma was not subject to the trigger mechanisms of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The state, however, does not have a totally clean record when it comes to black political participation. Oklahoma was home to the case that struck down the grandfather clause, which allowed the descendants of individuals who had been eligible to vote prior to the Civil War to register and vote without meeting the demands of literacy.
In the two most critical “voting assessment” categories--voter registration and election participation--blacks in the majority of section 5 states are more successful than blacks in Oklahoma.
From 1980 to 2004, black registration rates in Oklahoma trailed white registration rates. As a matter of comparison, black registration rates in Oklahoma are lower than in most of the states currently covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In 1980, black registration in the median section 5-covered states was 9.5 points higher than in Oklahoma. For the most recent presidential election, the disparity remained at 9.3 percentage points. In the other elections of the 21st Century, black registration in the median section 5-covered states was more than ten percentage points higher than in Oklahoma. Throughout the quarter century chronicled in this report, white voting participation rates in Oklahoma exceeded those of blacks. For the period 1980 to 2004, black turnout figures for the median section 5-covered states are higher than in Oklahoma in all but three election years. Minority office holding as a percentage of the population in Oklahoma has not reached levels seen in many of the states covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Edward Blum is a visiting fellow at AEI.