By Ken Blake
Two of Rutherford County’s most starkly different voting precincts face each other across Northfield Boulevard between Tennessee Boulevard and Pitts Lane in Murfreesboro.
To the north lies the John Pittard Elementary precinct, 16 percent black and a November 4, 2014 general election voter turnout of 49 percent. Across the street to the south sits the Kingwood Heights Church of Christ precinct, with nearly twice as many African Americans per capita and not even a quarter of the election day turnout.
The pattern holds across all 48 of the county’s precincts: Those with the largest proportions of minorities had the lowest voting rates in an election that determined the county’s representatives in Congress, included a long-awaited vote on wine sales in grocery stores, and approved a controversial state constitution amendment allowing stricter abortion regulations.
Rutherford County voter turnout by precinct, Nov. 4, 2014
Redder shading indicates higher voter turnout, while bluer shading indicates lower turnout. Precincts outlined in yellow have more African-American voters per capita than the median among all precincts in the county.
The Rev. James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church Murfreesboro in the heart of the Patterson Park Community Center precinct, said many African American voters simply didn’t see anyone on the election’s all-white ballot whom they thought would be willing to represent the interests of minorities and the poor.
“The understanding is that the average person that’s going to be in office – especially in Tennessee, which is traditionally a red state – is not going to look out for the minority population or the poor,” McCarroll said during a discussion in December at Middle Tennessee State University of the election’s outcome. “When it comes to certain classes of people, they’ll be kind of looked over for the sake of those that fit other demographic guidelines.”
Seventy-nine percent of county precincts with the most minorities per capita produced below-median voter turnouts during the election compared to only 21 percent of county precincts with typical or below-typical minority populations, an analysis of precinct demographics and voter turnout numbers indicates. The pattern has less than a 1 percent chance of occurring by pure coincidence.
Turnout averaged 32 percent among high-minority precincts compared to 42 percent among precincts with typical to low numbers of minorities, also a statistically significant pattern.