A new report by Democracy North Carolina shines a light on the geography of suppression of African American voters in North Carolina. The report challenges the arguments of Republican lawyers who told a federal judge yesterday that the state’s new voting laws have not discriminated against Black voters because their turnout increased in the spring primaries by 44,500 between 2010 and 2014. However, argues Democracy North Carolina:
But an analysis of county-by-county voting patterns by the nonpartisan watchdog group Democracy North Carolina shows that focusing on the statewide total distorts large differences experienced by voters depending on where they live…Yes, more African Americans voted in the 2014 midterm primary than in the 2010 primary, but black turnout decreased in 8 of the 15 counties where African Americans are over 39% of the registered voters – that is, it decreased in the percent of registered black voters who voted and also decreased in the actual number of votes cast.
The report goes on to note that “Two thirds (66%) of the increased number of votes cast by black voters statewide came from just 7 counties where there were hot races and/or stronger Early Voting opportunities than offered in 2010.” Further, in Mecklenburg County, which had the state’s largest increase in African American voters (8,282), early voting sites increased from 1 to 13 during the last four years and there was also a hotly-contested Democratic congressional primary race. Guilford county, which had he second-largest increase, also had substantially improved early voting and an even more competitive race.
The combination of close races and expanded early voting accounts for a substantial portion of the increase of African American voter turnout in other counties that reported improvement.
Additionally, adds Democracy North Carolina,
Ironically, the State/GOP’s brief emphasizes the dominant influence of election competitiveness and investments in grassroots mobilization on voter participation in order to discount the impact of Early Voting, Same-Day Registration, and other procedures on the record turnouts in 2008 and 2012. But then the State doesn’t want to acknowledge that the increase in turnout of African- American voters from 2010 to 2014 is also heavily influenced by changes in the competitiveness of local and Congressional elections and the resources invested in grassroots mobilization…In truth, turnout is affected by access to the polls AND competitiveness of elections.
North Carolina still has what some experts believe is the nation’s most suppressive voter laws targeting African Americans and Latinos. It is encouraging, however, that the ‘Moral Monday’ movement has been able to mobilize a powerful challenge to voter suppression and other regressive laws, and the movement is now spreading to other states.
For Democrats the implications are clear. The mobilization of African American voters, with expanded and highly-leveraged early voting is critical for re-electing Sen. Kay Hagan, and perhaps preventing a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. The great work provided by the multi-racial Moral Monday movement provides a potent template for other states which are experiencing the rash of voter suppression laws. No matter what the courts ultimately conclude, energetic GOTV rooted in moral fervor and modern techniques can often overcome the worst suppression laws. Yet, as the Democracy North Carolina report shows, those laws still target people of color with burdensome voting rules and they must be invalidated.