It’s one of the great liberal tropes – and close to an outright lie: Republicans are practicing “voter suppression” to keep Blacks and other minorities off the ballot in elections across the United States.
We’re hearing it everywhere now – from Democrat Stacey Abrams after her narrow loss to Brian Kemp in the governor’s race in Georgia last November, and from Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris during her town hall meeting earlier this week in New Hampshire.
The way these women tell it, African-Americans are facing an onslaught of electoral intimation and disenfranchisement not seen since the dark days of the pre-Civil Rights movement.
In those days, Blacks were actively intimidated – and sometimes physically attacked — by angry mobs of Whites to discourage them from voting. And it sometimes worked.
Raising that old specter makes for compelling rhetoric — and racy headlines.
Except that it’s no longer true – and hasn’t been for decades. But it allows Democrats to stigmatize Republicans as die-hard racists in an effort to keep African Americans firmly in their camp.
Consider the actual turn-out ratios for Blacks and Whites in recent national elections. In 2012, 66% of registered African-Americans turned out to vote – their highest percentage ever. In fact, the comparable turn-out rate for non-Hispanic Whites was 64% — or 2% lower. That was another political first, a Black turn-out rate higher than the White one. It was a major factor in Barack Obama’s sizable re-election victory.
In 2016, even without Obama on the ballot, the Black turn-out rate was 62%. Some say that small decline cost Hillary Clinton the election. If so, it wasn’t voter suppression. African Americans simply weren’t as energized by Clinton’s candidacy, who largely took the Black vote for granted. A higher percentage of African-Americans simply decided to stay home.
What exactly is “voter suppression”? The term refers to laws introduced by GOP legislatures that require all voters to have a valid picture ID to vote. Some of these laws also require voters to cast ballots in a number of consecutive elections – or risk having their names taken off the voter rolls. Critics suggest that these laws disproportionately disadvantage Black voters.
They may well do so, but they also disadvantage a number of other voting groups, including Hispanics, the disabled, veterans, youth and the elderly. Some of these groups, like the elderly, tend to vote GOP. So do veterans of late. In recent statewide elections, for example in Florida, almost 50% of Hispanics voted Republican.
But naturally, Democrats aren’t crying “voter suppression” with these groups because more of them at the polls could well help the GOP.
Georgia would appear to bear out the Democrats’ “voter suppression” argument. More than two-thirds of voters negatively affected by recent state voter ID laws are African-American, according to one analysis. Abrams, who led the charge against these laws as a state legislator, says “voter suppression” kept her from winning the statehouse last November.
“Democracy failed us in Georgia,” she declared after her defeat. For a while it appeared that she might even contest the election.
In fact, there are other explanations for her 53,000-vote election loss last November – namely that she failed to win enough support from other key voter groups.
One of those groups was Black men. While 97% of Black women voted for her, just 89% of Black men did. In exit polls, many of those voters said they were attracted to Kemp’s free market message and his criticism of state budget deficits, as well as his opposition to abortion.
Had more African-American men voted for Abrams, she would have won – but don’t expect her to admit that. It’s much easier to blame “voter suppression” against African-Americans as a whole.
Another part of the Democratic propaganda strategy is to accuse the U.S. Supreme Court of trying to “roll back” the 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed during the Civil Rights era to help ensure that Blacks could vote.
Last year the Court ruled that Ohio was within its constitutional rights to pure its voter rolls of recent non-voters – as long as those voters were notified that they were likely to be removed. There is good reason to purge the rolls of consistent non-voters – it reduces the possibility of voter fraud – but that hasn’t kept Democrats from seeing a sinister plot designed to keep their candidates from winning elections.
The real reason Democrats are charging “voter suppression” is simple: It’s a great way to fire up the base, especially African-Americans. Trump, like Kemp in Georgia, had made inroads with Black voters, with some polls showing him garnering a whopping 22% of the vote.
If Democrats hope to have any chance to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, they need to have a massive Black turn-out in their favor, even larger than the one in 2012.
Even now, African-Americans have one of the highest voter turn-out ratios in the country – in part due to past voter registration efforts. If Republicans are practicing voter suppression, they’re obviously doing a lousy job of it. Maybe Democrats should figure out how to suppress the Trump vote instead.