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For African-American Voter Turnout, a New Normal

| December 2, 2012

Vaulting rights. (green kozi)

By Leslie Watson Malachi

In 2008, for the first time in our history, African Americans voted at the same rate as white voters.

We spent the next four years hearing that that high turnout was a fluke. “Experts” told us we would lose our enthusiasm. We’d be daunted by new voting laws. We’d want to protest marriage equality. We’d think our votes don’t count.

Those “experts” were wrong. African Americans turned out to vote in record numbers on Election Day, many of us waiting in long lines and going through plenty of red tape to do so. One of these determined voters was a 100-year-old “Church Mother” in Elmhurst, New York who didn’t want any favors and stood in line and in solidarity with her fellow citizens.

This happened not just because our enthusiasm lasted, but because our organization strengthened.

African-American communities had strong voter turnout operations long before there was an African-American man on the presidential ballot, with many of them centered around the Black Church.

These turnout operations are there for a reason: Ever since the process toward full citizenship of African Americans began with the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, politicians and others have been trying to stop us from exercising the hard fought, hard won right to vote.

This year, the attacks on our voting system were intentionally suppressive. Elections officials in Ohio and Florida, for example, cut back on early voting hours, resulting in long lines at early voting locations and on Election Day — primarily in African American communities. Politicians from Pennsylvania to South Carolina tried to implement Voter ID laws, which disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans, other minorities, and the poor. Around the country, election law changes big and small threatened access to the ballot box.

In response to these attacks, African-American turnout operations developed and strengthened. I personally worked with 1,100 pastors in 22 states across denomination and faith traditions through our nonpartisan African American Ministers Leadership Council VESSELS program, to ensure that our congregations had both the skills and the will to vote.

We not only preached to our congregations about the importance of voting, we organized to make sure every person in our communities had the information and access they needed to vote. Reverend Tony Minor of Cleveland and Elder Lee Harris and Pastor R.L. Gundy of Jacksonville worked in diverse coalitions to organize early voting and an Election Day rides-to-the-polls hotline to help those in need get out to vote.

In Detroit, Bishops Allyson Abrams and Diana Williams recruited youth and young adults to share with people on the streets the importance of voting. Reverend Michael Couch of Philadelphia educated and motivated people who had served time for felonies and their families about getting their voting rights restored.


Reverend Barry Hargrove of Baltimore visited local barbershops on the weekends and registered voters while they got their hair cut. Reverend Charles Christian Adams in Detroit and Reverend Patrick Young in New York along with many others turned their fellowship halls into polling sites. Sister Jackie Dupont Walker in Los Angeles and Reverend Isaac McCullough in St. Louis used radio, email, and social media to spread the vote.

The civic engagement structure that African-American churches have built is here to stay. Next year, there will be municipal, state, and special elections, as well as ballot initiatives. It might be perceived as an “off year” for some, but for those of us who have been called to serve at such a time as this, it is “another year” to ask at every opportunity, “Are you registered, are you ready to vote?”

Pundits and politicians alike have tried to write off the African-American vote. But as every woman, man, youth, and elder of my community knows, we’ve come too far, seen too much, stood too long, felt “sick and tired of being sick and tired” too often, and fought too hard to turn back now.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi is the director for African-American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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13 Responses for “For African-American Voter Turnout, a New Normal”

  1. Ummm says:

    Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that one of the candidates was African American, could it?

  2. Yellowstone says:

    Ummm-

    No. But it had a lot to do with someone who was also on the ballot who simply could not talk the talk or walk the talk that resonated with the other 98% – or those gawd awful 47% he disdained. Not a pretty candidate. But to each his own.

    The election’s over – now you need to get over it! Let’s get busy and make this a better world.

  3. Liana G says:

    Media spin? Voter turnout among African Americans was lower this year. Why is that? Hope and Change didn’t manifest into actions? And the 2012 “Forward” mantra didn’t resonate either huh? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Duh!
    BTW, Republicans receive the majority of the college educated votes. Hmmmm…..

    • Dorothea says:

      @Liana G/

      Check your facts, please. Obama received the majority of college educated votes and Romney support was much higher with working class white southern males. Voter turn-out among African Americans was not significantly different from 2008 thanks to Republican efforts at voter suppression which riled up minorities and actually increased minority turn-out.

  4. Jessica says:

    Wonder why? Maybe because there was an African “American” man running for president? I’d say so. Guaranteed a majority of those votes were based on race, not valid reasons. This is why I hate politics! And calling him American is even a stretch.

    • Deep South says:

      Majority of the votes were from college educated youth and college educated working women. It did not have anything to do with race, but higher educated people with higher intelligence.

    • Nancy N. says:

      And what about all the racists who voted for Romney just because he wasn’t “the black guy”. Do you consider those votes to be based on a valid reason? If you want to start making the “votes were cast based only on the race of the candidate” argument, you have to accept that those votes went both ways and that your candidate got some of those votes too.

      And also, it’s incredibly racist to say that a black person voted for the black candidate because of race. When a white guy votes for a white guy, is your first assumption that he voted for the white guy because he’s a white guy? I bet not. I voted for some female candidates. Do you assume that I voted for them because they are women and I am too? I hope not.

  5. Samuel Smith says:

    Oh, the conservative tears in these posts are so very beautiful.

  6. Honestly Spoken says:

    Did I hear wrong when he said his mom is white?

  7. confidential says:

    We voted united and we won. Lets keep our vote united in 2014 also.
    Now lets continuo the fight against those greedy corporations that boycot their employees health care benefits via lay offs and rehiring part time only, because united in our absence of them pizza places and some eateries, works as well ask PAPPA J.:
    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/darden-cuts-outlook-cites-failed-152744670.html

  8. confidential says:

    And united we will defeat the special financial interest that keep our USA in shambles and our workers unemployed. Lizzy will work for us all in DC:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/04/elizabeth-warren-banking-committee_n_2236898.html?ref=topbar

  9. Stevie says:

    The ground game was better for Obama. He was better organized. He was able to message different groups with specific messages that affected only those groups and this motivated the get out to vote movement.

    The message did not have to be true or make sense, it just had to appeal to the group that was targeted. Each group had no idea what the other groups were being promised.

    AXELROD: You’ve been using the word, which is turnout. We’ve been expecting a close election for a year and a half. We’ve built a tremendous organization. We’ve got 200,000 or more election shift volunteers set up. We’ve got 5,000 stations in neighborhoods across the battleground states. Now it’s time to turn out that vote, and that’s what this election is going to be all about. We’re happy about those early vote numbers. Those early vote numbers are very significant. So we go in with a great advantage.

    http://www.cbspressexpress.com/cbs-news/releases/view?id=33526

    Obama won Florida by 75000 votes. 60000 of those were Hispanic. Use your imagination as to what that group was promised.

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