“You know what, they don’t have enough voter suppression tactics to stop this movement.” — Keith Mayes, professor of African American studies and African American history at the University of Minnesota.
As grief and despair over the racially-disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic and police brutality erupted in unrest across America’s cities this summer, the National Urban League mobilized to channel the protests in the streets into power at the polls.
If anyone had any doubt that Black votes matter, this week’s presidential election put those doubts to rest
Massive voter turnout in cities with large Black populations was key to a shift in four states that determined the outcome of the election. Voters in Philadelphia and Atlanta appear to have turned out in even greater numbers than in 2008, when Barack Obama was swept into office, while voters in Milwaukee and Detroit turned out in higher numbers than any election since then.
This turnout is all the more remarkable considering the tsunami of voter suppression measures directed at Black Americans in the years since then. As the National Urban League’s State of Black America report last year made distressingly clear, Black voting rights have been attacked over the last decade at a level not seen since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
President Trump’s campaign seems determined to continue the unconscionable trend, as it has throughout the entire election season. He has initiated legal action to invalidate ballots in at least three of the four states where Black voters made the difference — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia — and in Nevada, where Latinos make up almost 30% of the population.
These swing-state cities with large Black populations are also where the U.S. Postal System failed to deliver a significant percentage of ballots on time. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign is specifically trying to throw out absentee ballots that were not delivered by Election Day. Only about two-thirds of absentee ballots in Philadelphia were delivered by Election Day – one of the lowest levels in the country. A federal judge has threatened to hold Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in contempt of court.
It’s outrageous that any campaign would try to throw out any citizens’ votes. But to focus these efforts on Black Americans — who have paid in blood for the right to vote – is abhorrent.
Telling people, “Your votes should not be counted” is an especially brutal way of saying “You’re not considered a full citizen. You are not equal in the eyes of the law.” It gives validation to white supremacists and extremists threatening violence over the election.
Casting a ballot – and having that ballot counted – is the fullest expression of citizenship in America. It is the only way Americans can determine our future, protect our rights, seek equal treatment in economic and social life – and hold our leaders accountable.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the day after the election, the country set a record for reported cases of coronavirus, with more than 107,000 new cases recorded on Wednesday. More than 232,000 people have died, with Black Americans dying at twice the rate of whites.
Six of every ten Black households are facing serious financial problems since the pandemic began. Almost a third can’t pay their rent or mortgage. Federal relief is nowhere in sight.
Black lives, and Black livelihoods were at stake in this election. Black votes have determined its outcome.
During an interview on CNBC Wednesday night, Shepard Smith asked me how the nation can come together and unite after this divisive election. Part of my answer was, we need leadership at the top. But these efforts by the Trump campaign to invalidate our votes will only drive us further apart.
I’m proud of the National Urban League’s historic efforts to register, educate and engage voters through our campaign, Reclaim Your Vote. Protest To Power, and our partnerships with other initiatives like Oprah Winfrey’s Own Your Vote and Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote. I’m proud of the way we fought back against the sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service that slowed delivery of ballots. Most of all, I’m proud of the nation’s Black voters, who responded adversity and suppression with patriotism and determination.
As efforts to stop vote counting, invalidate votes, or cast doubt on the votes of Black and Brown citizens, continue, the National Urban League will continue to defend our most sacred right.
Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.