Black voters in US swing states are rushing to the polls after turnout dropped in 2016
- The black voter turnout rate for a presidential election dropped for the first time in decades in 2016, but experts said several factors are likely to contribute to a rise in turnout this November.
- Black voters have a personal stake in the November election, registered voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania told Business Insider.
- In the past year alone, black Americans stood at the center of calls to end police brutality and are facing disproportionate impacts by COVID-19 .
- Black voters, political experts, and voter engagement groups told Business Insider what's at stake for black Americans and how they are engaging in this year's election.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Tracy Johnson, a 44-year-old Black woman in Ohio, said she's "never felt the importance and the urgency to vote" in her entire life until now — and she isn't alone.
"With all of the police killings that have been going on," she said, "people are just now opening their eyes to the lack of safety that African Americans have just walking around and existing in their own communities."
"It's dangerous at this point to have Donald Trump as president," Johnson added.
Though recent months have seen Black Americans at the center of national tensions including calls to confront police brutality, heightened concerns don't guarantee high engagement among Black voters, Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science whose research focuses on political mobilization and race, told Business Insider.
"You can't assume that just because people are upset about what we have witnessed happened with policing this year, that's automatically going to turn people out to vote," Gillespie said.
However, early voting indicators in some key battleground states painted a promising picture for black voter turnout in 2020. In Pennsylvania, which Trump narrowly won by 0.7 percentage points in 2016, 7.38% of all absentee ballot requests as of late September came from black voters, according to the Associated Press.
In North Carolina, which Trump won by 3.7 percentage points, black voters had cast 16.7% of more than 173,000 received ballots as of late September, the AP reported. That early figure marked a notable rise from the 9% of mail-in votes cast by black voters in 2016, despite black voters accounting for 21% of the state's registered voters.
After dipping for the first time in 20 years, experts forecast a rise in black voter turnout in 2020
The black voter turnout rate for a presidential election dropped for the first time in two decades in 2016, falling from a record-high 66.6% when US President Barack Obama was reelected in 2012 to 59.6% when Trump won.
"Every time [voter turnout rate] drowned, it's always rebounded in the following election," Ted Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center whose work focuses on the role of race in electoral politics, told Business Insider. "So the question is — how much will it rebound?"
While voter turnout is notoriously difficult to predict, he added, "in any normal election, the rebound would probably be around 2% or so."
Two unprecedented factors could also complicate turnout projections.
"One is the fact that Kamala Harris is on the ticket," he said. Since Harris is the first woman of colour to run for vice president on a major party ticket, "we don't have any data to tell us what happens one way or another."
While "normally the number two candidate, the vice president doesn't have any effect on voters' choices," her "historic candidacy" could potentially lead to "increased Black turnout for 2020," Johnson said.
The other factor is the coronavirus pandemic, which Johnson said makes it difficult to predict how the combination of voters participating at polling locations and with mail-in ballots will contribute to overall engagement.
Polls suggest black voters are the most likely racial group to vote early with a 25% increase from 2016, according to FiveThirtyEight. Over six times as many black voters voted early in this election compared to 2016, according to political data firm TargetSmart.
In addition to the promising signals for increased turnout, engagement groups have been working on a local level in some key areas ahead of the election to combat obstacles faced by black voters and widen the pool of black participation.
Allegheny County Councilman DeWitt Walton is a co-leader of the Pennsylvania Black Votes Matter engagement effort, which Walton told Business Insider is working to increase Black voter engagement in the unprecedented election.
The organization is working on expanding early voting sites to African American communities in western Pennsylvania, ensuring that incarcerated individuals are voting if they are eligible, and reaching out to voters through calls, text messages, and social media. But personally engaging voters poses difficulties for local groups working with limited resources, posing "a challenge to ensure that we do enough outreach and we do everything humanly possible to engage every person," Walton said.
Despite obstacles, the group has seen overall "increased interest, a willingness to participate, and a greater understanding of the things that are at risk" in this election, Walton said.
Farooq Al-Said, a Pennsylvania resident, told Business Insider he decided last month he will be voting for the first time in the upcoming election.
"I had to utilize a tool that I've never used before by going to the ballot box," said Al-Said, who is the director of Operations for 1HOOD, a non-profit advocacy group that describes itself as a "collective of socially conscious artists and activists" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Al-Said was motivated by racial tensions across the country, Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacist groups, and his administration's overall "mishandling" of the pandemic.
"We've witnessed a generation's worth of trauma in under a calendar year and a lot of it could be sourced back to the White House," Al-Said. "We're looking at the opposition of white supremacy in a way that we've never seen it before in the states and the removal of it would hopefully come from this election."
Receive a daily news update on your cellphone Or get the best of our site emailed to you.
Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.