WASHINGTON – Black and Latino Americans have expressed particular interest in casting their vote in the 2018 election, but based on their experiences during the last presidential election, they’re questioning whether their votes will count.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic:
– White Americans are much less likely than black and Latino Americans to express concerns about being denied the right to vote. About a quarter (27 percent) of white Americans say this is a serious issue. But at least six in ten Latino (60 percent) and black (62 percent) Americans say this is an issue.
– While only 3 percent of white Americans say they or someone in their household were told that they lacked the correct identification the last time they tried to vote, the number of black (9 percent) and Latino (9 percent) Americans who say they or someone they know experienced this is three times higher
– Four percent of white Americans say they were harassed or bothered while trying to vote during their most recent visit to the polls. That number climbs to 7 percent for black Americans and nearly one in ten (9 percent) for Latino Americans.
– Five percent of white Americans said that they or a household member were told that their name was not on the rolls despite being registered the last time they tried to vote. The percentage of black (10 percent) and Latino Americans (11 percent) who had that experience was at least double.
Lots of attention is being given to Russia’s role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election, including by buying racially-charged Facebook ads that investigators think were designed to play into the racial divisions in the United States and divide the black and white electorate.
But the 2016 election was also notable for being the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling no longer required nine states, mostly in the South and with a history of voter discrimination based on race, to get advance federal approval before changing their election laws. As a result, key swing states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin had lower turnout because of newly enforced voter identification laws and decisions to close polling places in predominantly black counties.
Concern about weakened voting rights has been a significant issue for many Americans of color since Republican lawmakers began showing less support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was a response to laws put in place to keep black Americans from voting.
Jesse H. Rhodes, author of “Ballot Blocked: The Political Erosion of the Voting Rights Act,” wrote in The Washington Post this year:
“According to the conventional wisdom: Both Republicans and Democrats repeatedly – in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006 – voted overwhelmingly to extend the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. This ‘five-decade bipartisan consensus’ collapsed in the 2000s, however, when Republicans, anxious about growing racial and ethnic diversity that would likely favor Democrats, abandoned the VRA and embraced restrictive voting rules.”
But the professor argues that conservative attacks on the voting rights of people of color have existed for decades. Many state houses began trending conservative in 2006, and as a result began to pass laws that decreased election spending or focused on fighting perceived voter fraud. These laws can often create challenges for minority and low-income voters, The Washington Post’s Jamie Fuller previously reported.
And many liberals have expressed concern that the voting rights people of color currently have could be rolled back if Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s latest nominee to the Supreme Court, makes it to the bench.
Leslie Proll, former policy director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted that voting rights in particular could be under threat with Kavanaugh on the bench, in part based on his response to the Obama Justice Department blocking a voter identification law it found discriminatory.
And Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” recently wrote in the New York Times about his anxiety about the future of voting rights for people of color:
“Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination signals a disturbing shift in the historic role of the court. In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement looked to the Supreme Court for help in dismantling the architecture of white supremacy. And the court responded by desegregating public schools, upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and legalizing interracial marriage, to name a few landmark decisions. Representative John Lewis of Georgia described the court in those days as a ‘sympathetic referee.'”
Democrats who often count on minority voters to take them over the victory line in tight races will likely target communities of color in their voter outreach this fall. Low confidence in the system among black and Latino voters may be an issue they will want to pay particular attention to.