Voting while black: the racial injustice that harms our democracy

‘There’s another important public space where blackness has been policed: the voting booth.’

The recent spate of whites calling 911 on African Americans for barbecuing while black, waiting in Starbucks while black, sleeping at Yale while black ad nauseum has led to a much-needed discussion about the policing of public spaces.

Yet, there’s another important public space where blackness has been policed and we have been far too silent about it: the voting booth. And the implications are just as far-reaching and devastating, and, despite Chief Justice John Roberts’ claim, not some relic of a bygone past.

The 21st century is, in fact, littered with the bodies of black votes. In the 2000 presidential election, which George W Bush won in the sunshine state by 537 ballots, Florida kept African Americans from the polls or ensured that their votes would never be added to the state’s tally. The policing was multi-tentacled. On election day, there were faulty voting machines, purged voter rolls (purges that targeted minorities) and locked gates at polling places that should have been opened. There was also a Florida Highway Patrol checkpoint at the only road leading to the polls in key, heavily black precincts in Jacksonville. Then there were the piles of ballots, especially in counties with large minority populations, left uncounted. The US Civil Rights Commission “concluded that, of the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53% were cast by black voters. In Florida,” the commission’s report continued, “a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter.”

That targeting of African Americans was just as egregious in North Carolina after the US supreme court gutted the necessary protection of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The catalyst for North Carolina’s assault was simple: black people had dared access their 15th amendment rights. Since 2000, African American voter registration had increased by 51.1% in the state, and blacks also had a higher voter turnout “rate than white registered voters in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections”.

Effective black access to that public space, the voting booth, triggered, as the federal court noted, a targeting of African American voters “with almost surgical precision”. The state required ID’s which its research showed a disproportionate number of black people did not have. And, as Think Progress reported, the GOP slashed the number of early voting sites in Guilford county, which is nearly 30% African American, from “16 in 2012 to a single location” in 2016. As a result, the magazine noted, “turnout so far is down 85%”. There was a similar elimination of early voting…

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