Voter suppression, challenges likely to blame for low early turnout from African American voters

Clarence Lusane, African studies expert and chair of Howard University's political science department, tells Tom Clark black voter suppression and poor race relations in the United States have created a cultural divide that the next administration will need to make a priority.

Early voting among the African-American community in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is down in North Carolina and Florida, both critical states for the Democrats – but one expert says he suspects this has to do with voter suppression.

“North Carolina was basically told by a judge that they had to open up the polls,” said Clarence Lusane, an author and professor of political science at American University’s School of International Service. “Similar in Florida, there was an effort by the governor to stop early voting because of the hurricane … .and he was forced, again by the courts, to open up so that people would have an opportunity [to vote early].”

When Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee for president in 2008 and 2012, the black communities in key states showed up in droves at early polls. This year, however, the numbers are not stacking up.

READ MORE: Donald Trump, RNC sued for voter intimidation in 4 states

Recent polling shows the gap narrowing between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In some cases, the divide is statistically irrelevant.

Early voting numbers in some states suggest Clinton’s challenge stems, at least in part, from underwhelming support from African-American voters, The Associated Press recently reported.

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The numbers coming from North Carolina, for example, show a five percentage point drop in ballots from black voters compared to 2012.

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Changes and challenged to voting access in some states, including North Carolina, might have something to do with the decreased numbers, Lusane said to The West Block’s Tom Clark.

“Around the country, Republican legislators have done all they could to make it more difficult, particularly for the black community and younger voters to have access to the polls,” Lusane said.

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But it’s likely a temporary blip, he said, since polling that he and colleagues at Howard University have conducted indicate the percentage of black registered voters who say they will vote is “basically the same” as in 2008 and 2012.

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton inches ahead of Donald Trump in latest election polls

“I expect by the end, the overall turnout for black voters will be pretty close to the last election,” he said

Further, despite a slow start, the bulk of those voters will likely end up casting ballots choosing Clinton for president, Lusane said.

“A lot of these voters, particularly the young voters who are 18 to early 20s, they do feel Bernie Sanders represented them more appropriately than Hillary Clinton,” he said. “But because Bernie Sanders has been out on the campaign for Hillary Clinton, and as [voters] begin to realize the dangers of a Trump presidency, we’re seeing a lot of the black millennials move toward Hillary Clinton.”
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President Obama has, over the past couple of months, made a number of appeals to black communities on Clinton’s behalf, once saying he would take is as a “personal insult” if they fail to turn out for the presidential election.

Last week, Obama offered an urgent message to North Carolina voters, telling them the fate of the republic rests on their shoulders.

With files from The Associated Press