In the wake of the 2016 election, which culminated in Donald Trump being elected the 45th president of the United States, many liberals, Independents, and even Republicans firmly planted in the #NeverTrump camp sought to find answers explaining the outcome. This eventually came in the form of placing blame on low voter turnout, third party voters, high disinterest amongst the minority voters who carried President Obama to consecutive presidential terms, and "many" minorities choosing to vote for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. But that finger pointing is factually inaccurate.
There are three important facts most Americans should know about the 2016 presidential election:
1. All of the votes have not yet been counted.
3. Hillary Clinton is on pace to receive more votes than any other presidential candidate in history not named Barack Obama.
Yet, despite those hard facts circulating throughout social media and mainstream media, many pundits and private citizens have the impulse to direct their blame squarely at minority voters, believing that their lack of Obama-level enthusiasm is what cost the Democrats their shot at the White House.
It's an easy argument to make because it passes the numerical eye test. The fact that President Obama had more raw votes than Hillary Clinton makes it appear that the Obama delegation was derelict in their conviction to prevent a Trump presidency. Well, the thing is, while numbers may not lie, they definitely do not tell the entire truth. And one of the uncomfortable (and maddening) numerical realities about the 2016 election is that voter suppression played a huge role in launching the Republicans into the White House.
Voter suppression can simply be defined as a political ploy to prevent certain demographic groups from registering to vote or getting to the polls. The reason a political party would even engage in voter suppression is because they believe that a certain group of people will give their opponents more votes, which means they could end up losing an election if all possible voters cast a ballot. In order to execute this suppression, members of the party create as many impediments as they possibly can to make it incredibly difficult for citizens to vote, or eliminate their right to vote completely.
America, unfortunately, has a long documented history of voter suppression, especially against marginalized minorities. Ava DuVernay's film, Selma, is about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight to enfranchise black voters who were restricted from voting due to violent intimidation, poll taxes, incredibly difficult literacy tests, and random tests such as asking black men and women to accurately count the exact number of jelly beans in a jar before being allowed to vote. Selma concludes with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being passed by Democratic president Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965, ensuring African-Americans the ability to exercise their 15th amendment right to vote in state and local elections. But, since then, voting rights, including that actual piece of legislation, have been under attack, largely by the Republican party that claims they are incredibly interested in preventing voter fraud.
In-person voter fraud can simply be defined as misrepresenting, lying, forging, and perjuring oneself during the registration and/or the voting period to cast a fraudulent ballot. Many in the Republican party have taken to adopting the cause of "fighting voter fraud" in order to disenfranchise many minorities, especially now that minority groups have largely backed the Democrats for the past 50 years. While some may argue that there's nothing wrong with fighting for the betterment of our society, no matter how big or small, here's the problem: Voter fraud is largely a myth.
Yet, despite the fact that voter fraud occurs at an almost non-existent rate, the efforts to combat voter fraud have affected millions of Americans from the most vulnerable groups in our society, in largely irreparable ways. The numbers are truly staggering.
Wisconsin, the state in which Gov. Scott Walker signed a voter ID law that disproportionately affects poor blacks, was won by Donald Trump by 30,000 votes — while as many as 300,000 people were prevented from voting. And 60,000 fewer people voted in Milwaukee, the city with 70% of Wisconsin's black population.
In Florida, where felons are permanently banned from participating in elections, 1.5 million residents are prevented from executing their right to vote despite paying their debt to society, Think Progress points out. In 2016, one out of every four black Floridians were prevented from voting in a state that Trump won by around 120,000 votes.
When a discriminatory piece of legislation was passed in North Carolina, then subsequently struck down by the federal courts, Republican-controlled county elections boards found other methods to suppress minority voters, such as cutting the number of locations available to vote at, and restricting the hours, both contributing to huge lines, designed to dissuade voters from participating in the election press. And it worked: Black voters were down 9% statewide in this election, and Trump won by fewer than 200,000 votes.
This was the first presidential election in 50 years that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 wasn't fully enforced — following a 2013 Supreme Court decision that allows states to amend voting laws without the approval of the United States Department of Justice, which was a stipulation of the 1965 act. As a result, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights discoveredthat there were 868 fewer polling places in poorer, predominantly nonwhite communities.
In a fair and open democracy, there should be a bipartisan effort to ensure that voting, a fundamental American right, is made easier for all citizens, not more difficult. Yet, what we have in practice is a partisan effort to disenfranchise large segments of voters, especially young voters, and those from minority communities. So when we talk about what black and brown voters did, or didn't do, in the 2016 presidential election, let's make sure to start with voter suppression as the number one talking point.