Voting While Black: Georgia Edition

FiveThirtyEight published an article by Patrick Ruffini titled Black Voters Aren’t Turning Out For The Post-Obama Democratic Party. In his piece he argued that the lack of black turnout in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District primary could be a politically disastrous sign for Democrats moving forward. His argument is legitimate but a bit shortsighted. Saying any political party would be in trouble if, demographically speaking, their most reliable constituency stayed home isn’t groundbreaking. Ruffini, like many pundits, looked at the data following the 2016 election and decided that black voter disenchantment with the Barack “Obamaless” Democratic party was the cause for the decline. Why?

Liberal and conservative pundits have written hundreds of articles about black voter participation since the 2016 election. Liberals tend to write these articles as a way of scapegoating black voters for the election of Donald Trump; while conservatives write them to deflect the impact voter suppression has had in Republican led states. Federal courts have written opinion after opinion overturning Republican sponsored legislation designed to make voting harder for blacks, but somehow this fact gets overlooked in many of these articles.

Political commentators on the right willfully downplay or ignore the effects of voter suppression. Since the 2010 mid-term elections people of color have had a number of obstacles placed in front of them by Republican led state legislatures. There’s enough Prima Facie evidence to support the claim that some of the declines since 2010 could be attributed to Republican efforts to restrict early voting while simultaneously cutting the number of voting precincts in minority districts. It’s not a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of federal cases concerning voter disenfranchisement have been filed against Republican governors and legislatures. This doesn’t explain voter decline in states that haven’t had to deal with this type of electoral malfeasance, but it shouldn’t be ignored in states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin where the right to vote has been under constant assault.

Omission is a powerful tool. If Ruffini willfully ignored the almost decade long war waged by Republicans in Georgia against black voters he’s part of the problem. It’s disingenuous for anyone to rest the result of the June 20th special election solely at the feet of black voters. Blacks are 13.4% of a district with a population close to 700,000, but If Jon Ossoff loses to Karen Handel the story will be centered around what percentage of the black population voted.

The last three national election cycles have been defined by Republicans making voting harder for black people and Democrats blaming us for their electoral failures. Both groups are acting out of fear. Republicans are afraid of the demographic shifts that place them in electoral peril, and the Democrats are afraid of addressing their failures with uneducated white women. For all of the misogyny Hillary Clinton faced from the left this same group ignores the fact that their mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, and cousins voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by a margin of 62% to 38%. There are more uneducated white women in America than black people as a whole, but this demographic remains free from any serious critique.

On November 2nd, 2016, I published an article titled "We Don't Owe The Democrats Our Vote!" In it I wrote:

There are people in the Black community who are ready to concede the 2016 election in lieu of more political capital in 2020. The Democrats have blackmailed us for so long with the threat of horrible Republican policies that many have stopped listening. Maybe, the best way to leverage our political power moving forward is to sit out 2016? This isn’t that crazy of a thought to someone living through hell. How much worse can life get for someone trapped in a failing neighborhood, in a failing city under a Trump Administration? I don’t subscribe to this line of thinking, but I know some very smart people of color who do. Some live in solidly blue states and some live in deep red states, but there are some in battleground states who have decided they will vote Jill Stein or avoid the long lines and stay home.

I was excoriated by many of my colleagues for introducing them to this line of thinking. The same people who’ve written dozens of articles blaming black voters for supporting Hillary over Bernie, or for not showing up in high enough numbers during the general election have avoided the real 800lb electoral gorilla in the room. No matter what happens on June 20th black voters will either be ignored or blamed. The right is more than happy to continue ignoring our needs, and the left is more than happy to blame marginal drops in black voter participation for their failures. We are damned if we do and damned if we do.