For all the scuttlebutt that African-American voters are abandoning President Obama, the New York Times reports that this just isn’t true. “Despite a school of thought in Washington that Mr. Obama’s support among blacks has weakened because of the poor economy and a sense of unmet expectations,” the NYT noted, “interviews and public opinion surveys show that his standing remains remarkably strong among African-Americans.”
That is, to be sure, interesting and important. But I’d argue that Obama for America should be worried less about whether African-American voters will support them, and more about whether African-American voters will be able to participate in the first place.
An elderly black woman in Tennessee can’t vote because she can’t produce her marriage certificate. Threatening letters blanket black neighborhoods warning that creditors and police officers will check would-be voters at the polls, or that elections are taking place on the wrong day. Thirty-eight states have instituted new rules prohibiting same-day registration and early voting on Sundays. All of this is happening as part of an effort to eradicate a problem that is statistically rarer than heavy-metal bands with exploding drummers: vote fraud.
Many commentators have remarked on the unavoidable historical memories these images provoke: They are so clearly reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. So why shouldn’t the proponents of draconian new voting laws have to answer for their ugly history?
Proponents of reforming the voting process seem blind to the fact that all of these seemingly neutral reforms hit poor and minority voters out of all proportion. (The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that while about 12 percent of Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID, the figure for African-Americans is closer to 25 percent, and in some Southern states perhaps higher.)
Risa Goluboff and Dahlia Lithwick added that the Republican efforts to restricting voting rights in 2012 — efforts generally known as the GOP’s “war on voting” — look “an awful lot like methods pioneered by the white supremacists from another era that achieved the similar results.”
The African-American community still overwhelmingly backs President Obama. If the community is blocked from voting, it won’t matter.