Cautious Celebration for Black Voter Turnout

Cautious Celebration for Black Voter Turnout

Philadelphia Tribune Editorial

Blacks voted at higher rates than whites in 2012, helping to lift President Barack Obama to re-election victory, according to new data from the Census Bureau.The turnout rate of African American voters surpassed the rate of whites for the first time on record in 2012, as more Black voters went to the polls than in 2008 and fewer whites did, new census data show.

According to the census report released last week, 66.2 percent of eligible African Americans voted in the 2012 election, compared with 64.1 percent of eligible non-Hispanic whites. The overall turnout rate was 61.8 percent in 2012, a decline from 63.6 percent in 2008.

Exit polls showed an estimated two million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, just as about 1.8 million more Blacks went to the polls, more than 90 percent of them voting to re-elect Obama.

The increase in African-American voter turnout was attributed not only to African Americans seeking to re-elect the president but it was also a positive and proactive response to new efforts at voter suppression by Republican lawmakers.

In several states including Pennsylvania, Republican legislators tried to either increase voter ID requirements, limit voting times or make registration more difficult.

Civil rights groups, African American elected officials and others rallied voters to get registered and vote in response to efforts to make voting more difficult.

The historic increase in African American voter turnout is something to celebrate while exercising caution.

Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who specializes in voter turnout, told the Associated Press: “Obama’s win in 2012, despite the important Democratic constituency of young voters not participating at a higher level, is good news. The bad news is that voting is a habit — and the fact that we saw turnout declines among younger African Americans suggest Democrats will have to work even harder to excite these voters in future elections.”

It remains unclear if the increase in Black voter turnout will last and if the next Democratic nominee in 2016 and beyond would generate the same kind of enthusiasm as Obama.

Efforts to suppress the vote will have to be fought against in the courts and through voter education and mobilization.

During a campaign rally in the 2012 presidential election campaign, Obama said the best revenge is voting.

As African-American voters clearly demonstrated in 2012, the best response to restrictive voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and other states, reduced voting hours, voter purging and other voting suppression efforts is strong voter turnout.