One of the main things missing from the overall electoral equation four years ago has seemingly fueled the 2020 early voting turnout: Black people, who were criticized in part as scapegoats for the election of Donald Trump because their share of the vote plummeted in 2016. But statistics show it’s doubtful that will be true this time around as more Americans have already cast their ballots in the early voting period than all of the early voting in the election that Hillary Clinton lost.
Whether that surge is due to Black voters may not be known until exit polling is finished. One thing, however, that is known is that registered Democrats have accounted for more than half of all early ballots reported, compared with just 31 percent of Republicans, according to the Associated Press. And if the constant images of long, winding lines of people waiting to vote that are populated by Black folks is any indication, we may already have our answer.
Nearly 60 million Americans have already voted as of Sunday. For perspective’s sake, that’s “more than the 47.2 million 2016 general election pre-election votes” in 2016 and “more than the 58 million in-person and mail ballots cast in 2016,” including “mail ballots that were dropped off on Election Day or post marked by Election Day and received by election offices afterwards,” according to data being compiled and tallied by the U.S. Elections Project. “Nationally, the 2020 early vote is greater than 43% of all votes cast in the 2016 election. The pace of some states’ early voting is such that with almost certainty states will begin surpassing their total 2016 total vote this week.”
Polling by the Five Thirty Eight data analysis website shows that way more Black people were expected to vote early this year compared to 2016. That’s about 25 percentage points more than four years ago. The share of Black people who said they planned to vote by mail is also up significantly, the highest proportion among Black, white and Hispanic voters. Black people also led all voters who planned to cast their ballots in-person early voting numbers — 33 percent — which is an increase of 9 percentage points from 2016.
The telling sign is that Black people, who have traditionally been among the most reluctant to vote via mail, are apparently no longer hesitant to do so. That’s probably because of a myriad of factors that prominently include Donald Trump and the coronavirus — the former has solidified his reputation as an anti-Black racist and the latter has forced Black people, disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, to realistically consider voting from afar.
It hasn’t been quite that simple for ll Black voters, though. That was especially true in places like Georgia where Black folks have historically had their electoral voices marginalized through efforts to suppress their votes. The long lines there have been just as well documented as — and compared to — the kind of voter suppression the country witnessed there just two years ago when then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp flagrantly rigged the election against Stacey Abrams to secure his victory to become governor.
Instances like that along with the nationwide protests that have spurred a racial reckoning of sorts have helped motivate Black voters to endure lengthy waits to make sure their ballots are cast, recorded and counted.
To be sure, Black voter turnout fell dramatically in 2016 even as a record number of ballots were cast in that election. It was the first time in 20 years that the number of Black voters fell, statistics that were exacerbated by a lack of interest in supporting either Clinton or Trump. Those two options paled in comparison to when Barack Obama was running in 2008 and 2012 — when Black folks voted at historic levels — and kept too many Black voters home assuming incorrectly that there was no way Trump could win.
For clarity, the 2016 election was not solely on Black voters. There is plenty of blame to go around, including Clinton’s campaign, the Democratic Party and foreign election interference — something that remains a real threat to American democracy four years later.
The Washington Post interviewed a handful of Black people who didn’t vote in 2016 and they all cited Trump’s presidency as motivation in one way or another for making sure they don’t skip two consecutive presidential elections. In other words, their voting choices seem to be more concerned with making sure Trump is not re-elected than it is about putting Joe Biden in the White House, even as he is running with Sen. Kamala Harris, the first Black woman ever nominated to be vice president.
Taken in its totality and loosely translated, Black voters are ready for a change in political leadership and are exercising their democratic right to make sure that happens t what just may turn out to be historic proportions.
With that said, a new poll conducted by CBS News and BET found that despite all of the early voter participation, most Black folks remain concerned whether their votes will actually be counted amid worries about voter intimidation and other suppression tactics.
This is America.