This story is part of the Solutions Journalism Network’s Advancing Democracy project. The Defender is one of 10 newsrooms across the United States that have been tasked with deep reporting projects that consider how to make our democracy better. The reality is democracy is not infallible; it is only as strong as the people who uphold it. Through hard-hitting, solution-oriented stories, the Defender hopes to inspire, educate and enlighten voters in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Black women have long been known as one of the most loyal voting blocs. Their nationwide voter mobilization efforts led to the historic turnout that secured Joe Biden’s victory and that of the first Black, female vice president in the nation’s history.
In fact, about 90% of Black women voted for President-elect Joe Biden over Donald Trump. For the past five presidential cycles, they have shown up to the polls at higher rates than any other group, despite the fact that they only make up about seven percent of the nation’s population. And now, some local Black women in politics are urging Black women to flex that same power in the upcoming midterm elections.
“2022 is going to be a major turning point,” said Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth. “Everybody showed up in 2020. We saw millions of folks turn out. And the truth of the matter is communities of color sit at home and we don’t activate in a midterm election. If we don’t step up and do something about it next year, we will suffer and we will suffer greatly for years to come.”
In the Houston area, voters will decide everything from Governor to school board in 2022. In order to advance democracy, Tracey Yvette Scott, president of the Black Women’s PAC, says it’s imperative Black women have a seat at the table.
“From statewide offices to locally elected officials, Black women are taking the lead here in cities all around Texas. It is important to have representation at all levels of public office,” said Scott. “That’s why we use our collective power to put more Black women in office. And we say to Black women in general, if you’re mad, get educated, if you’re tired, get educated. Educate yourself on who is on the ballot, what role role they play and how it connects with your life specifically. If your cousin was arrested, who is the judge? Is that person on the ballot? How does that police chief come in play? The mayor, the city council member, take some time and ask, how does this affect my life? Who are these people? And are they on my ballot and then decide how you’re gonna vote.”
Regardless of who is on the ballot, City Council member and Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex Tatum says we need to make voting a priority.
“Elections have consequences and we have to be very vigilant about making sure we vote in all elections,” said Castex-Tatum. “I know for so many people, they see the presidential election as the mecca of voting (‘I voted in the presidential election. I did my civic duty.’) But we really need to make sure people understand that local elections play a big part in their everyday quality of life. And we need to encourage people in every single election and not only go out to vote, but get to know who you’re voting for because every person that looks like you may not be for you and every person that does not look like you may not be against you. It is our civic responsibility to get to know the candidates, what they stand for and to vote in every single election.”
“When you fire [Black women] up, we don’t go to the polls alone, we bring our house, our block, our church, our sorority and our union,” said Glynda C. Carr, President and CEO of nonprofit, Higher Heights.
Carr is one of the many behind #BlackWomenVote, a nonpartisan voter-activism campaign. She said this movement goes beyond the hashtag…the campaign offers Black women the tools and information they need to engage their communities regardless of the political party.
“We are informed,” Carr said. “We know the issues. These are the conversations we’re having with those who are vying for our votes for city hall, for school boards across this country.”
While some elections haven’t been finalized Castex-Tatum is hoping more Black women will choose to run for office. Organizations like The Black Women’s PAC is committed to help develop, build, train, fund and grow political and intellectual infrastructure necessary to help Black Women win elections and successfully govern once elected. BWPAC also seeks to empower Black Women as political donors in support of electing more Black Women to public office across the state of Texas.
“Advancing democracy is our next step as Black Americans,” said Scott. “It is our turn, it is our space, it is our time to step up and create a space for future generations. It is an opportunity to support Black women in political spaces. We want to advocate for more Black women in C-suites, on boards, and particularly, elected officials. From the bottom of the ballot to the top. This is a step in civic engagement that we need to really fulfill.”
Hudspeth, who says she spent years ‘preparing’ to run, believes organizations like BWPAC can help more Black women throw their names in the political ring.
“I think Tracy’s on to something because there should be Black Women PACs in every major city so when we go to the table and we’re ready to run, we are ready for prime time,” said Hudspeth.
“You will be, you will be criticized, your speech, your look, everything you do will be watched and criticized. And so we as a Black Women’s PAC need to make sure that the Black women that we put forward as our candidates are correct, prepared and ready for prime time,” added Castex Tatum.
In 2018, Black women made record strides but for every Black woman that ran for office, there was another sidelined, primarily because of finances.
“Statistically, Black women raise less money than other candidates and it is important for us to get this message out to our community and to our supporters. Campaigns cost money. You have to be able to get your name and your message out to people that will vote for you and unfortunately, it takes a lot of money. We have to be better stewards of our finances so we can get the best candidates at the tables representing us,” Castex-Tatum said.
Black Women & Elections
The Brookings Institution and the organization Higher Heights collaborated to create a database comprised of elected officials at the federal, state, and municipal levels, as well as aspirant candidates. Information regarding their districts was also collected and analyzed to pinpoint predictors of electoral success.
Based on the preliminary analysis, three major findings emerged:
- The concentration of Black residents in a district is positively correlated with Black women’s electoral success. Roughly two-thirds of Black women have been elected in majority-Black districts (>50 percent).
- Recent mayoral victories among 100 of the most populated cities and unsuspecting wins throughout various primaries this cycle show Black women are viable in districts in which Blacks are not the majority. Although a third of all Black congresswomen and female state legislators were elected in minority-Black districts, recent and past successes suggest Black women are creating more and different routes to elected office.
- States with the highest percentages of Black residents offer viable opportunities for Black women to be elected statewide and in minority-Black districts as over 500 majority-Black constituencies picked a representative, yet only one-third of those seats were contested by Black women.
- Black women made up 6.6 percent of the country’s population and 6.5 percent of the voting age population in 2020, but accounted for 3.1 percent of federal and state elected officials.
Black women by the numbers
287 Black female politicians
18 U.S. Representatives
1 U.S. Senator
193 state representatives
67 state senators
1 lieutenant governor
0 attorneys general
0 secretaries of state
5 mayors of top 100 cities
Party affiliation of elected Black females
Black women are the most powerful when they move together. These organizations are mobilizing Black women all across the country to activate their networks and giving them the tools to raise their voice, cast their vote and flex their collective voting power.