5 Ways to Increase Voter Turnout in African American Communities

Lawmakers have attempted to justify these laws to the public by claiming they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though studies show that voter fraud is extremely rare.

5 Ways to Increase Voter Turnout in African American Communities

Voters line up in Atlanta to cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential election on November 8, 2016 | Getty/Jessica McGowan

Washington, D.C. — As citizens of the United States, African Americans have historically faced significant barriers to voting: Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, these barriers included poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and even outright voter intimidation. In the decades since the federal government took steps to protect African Americans’ right to vote, states have enacted procedures that unduly prevent them from casting ballots at the polls. These protections were further curtailed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder and this year’s Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, allowing states with histories of voter suppression to employ new tactics to limit African Americans’ power at the polls. In a new column released today, the Center for American Progress outlined five steps that policymakers can take in order to increase voter turnout in African American communities.

“African Americans are one of the most politically involved voting blocs in the United States. Given African Americans’ traditional support of progressive candidates, it’s not hard to see why conservatives have used legislative proposals, the courts, and other insidious tactics to attempt to limit black political influence and voter participation,” said Connor Maxwell, research associate for Race and Ethnicity Policy at CAP. “Beyond fighting against tactics that suppress the vote of African American voters, ongoing and meaningful engagement with black voters and the recruitment of black candidates are absolutely vital to bolstering the African American community’s voice in American politics.”

The steps outlined in CAP’s brief include:

  1. Eliminating strict voter ID laws that discriminate against communities of color: Lawmakers have attempted to justify these laws to the public by claiming they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though studies show that voter fraud is extremely rare. These requirements instead serve to unfairly target low-income people, people of color, and elderly people by making it more burdensome to vote.

  2. Preventing unnecessary poll closures in locations with high African American populations: Lawmakers throughout the South have shuttered polling places located in predominantly black communities, creating long lines and preventing voters from accessing information about how and where to vote. Instead of building barriers to political participation, lawmakers should be making it easier to register and vote by advocating for pro-voter policies such as automatic voter registration, expanded early voting, and no-excuse absentee voting.

  3. Prohibiting the harmful voter roll purges that punish voters who fail to consistently vote in consecutive elections: Approximately 30 states use the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program to institute voter purges. This inaccurate, unreliable program identifies potential double voters using first and last names. Because it identifies people with common last names, African Americans with last names such as Washington or Jackson are at great risk of being wrongfully purged from voter rolls. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Husted, it is now up to those who support democracy, equality, and racial justice to fight back against this form of voter suppression and ensure that registered voters are not barred from casting ballots.

  4. Prioritizing political outreach to focus on African American voters: Robust voter engagement extends far beyond simply reminding eligible voters to turn out. Politicians and political organizations must do more to thoughtfully and consistently engage with African American voters.

  5. Recruiting African American candidates to run for public office: African Americans are still grossly underrepresented in elected office. Despite making up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population, today the country has only three African American U.S. senators and not a single African American governor. Often, would-be African American candidates, especially African American women, face significant barriers to entry. Political parties and organizations must do more to ensure that African Americans are empowered to run for political office across the United States. This includes, but is not limited to, actively recruiting black candidates and transitioning to publicly financed elections.

Today’s column is the fourth and last in a series from CAP focused on increasing voter turnout in communities of color. The three previous columns are:

Click here to read “5 Ways to Increase Voter Turnout in African American Communities” by Connor Maxwell