Quick, what are the most racially charged elements of voting? There is a familiar roster of complaints: felon disenfranchisement, which, given the racial disparities in the justice system, disproportionately affects minorities. Voter-ID laws and other restrictions on voting hours. Gerrymandering, which concentrates minority voters into districts.
But what about mortality rates? It’s not something that enters the political discussion much, but a new paper, “Black lives matter: Differential mortality and the racial composition of the U.S. electorate, 1970-2004,” argues that the racial gap in mortality rates could have a major impact on national politics.
The premise of the paper, by researchers at Mathematica Policy Research, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and Oxford, is simple: Unless you live in Chicago, you can’t vote when you’re dead. Since overall black health outcomes are worse than white ones, and life expectancies are lower for black Americans, that must have an effect on the results of elections. The team crunched the numbers from 1970 to 2004 and calculated “excess deaths” among African Americans:
The total number of black deaths would have been reduced from 8.5 million to 5.8 million if blacks faced the same mortality schedules as whites. Thus, 1 out of every 3 black deaths occurring within this time period was an excess death.
Of the 2.7 million black excess deaths, we project a total of 1.87 million hypothetical survivors to 2004, 1.74 million of voting age, about 1 million of whom would have been voters.
For comparison’s sake, and to see how significant that is, 1 million is also the number of African Americans who have served time but remain disenfranchised, according to a 2010 analysis.