President-elect Donald Trump has a message to black Americans: Thank you for not coming out to vote.
“We did great with the African-American community,” Trump said at a Thursday rally in Pennsylvania. “So good. Remember the famous line, because I talk about crime, I talk about lack of education, I talk about no jobs. And I’d say, what the hell do you have to lose? Right? It’s true. And they’re smart and they picked up on it like you wouldn’t believe. And you know what else? They didn’t come out to vote for Hillary. They didn’t come out. And that was a big. So thank you to the African-American community.”
As Philip Bump reported in the Washington Post, exit polls suggest black turnout really was lower in 2016 than it was in 2012 — with black Americans making up 12 percent of voters in 2016, down a percentage point from 2012. And since 89 percent of black voters cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, the lower turnout likely helped Trump win (if those who refrained from voting would have voted for Clinton).
And as Trump’s comments indicate, lower black turnout is what many Republicans wanted all along. Over the past several years, Republican legislators passed several measures that make voting more difficult — voter ID, early voting cuts, polling place closures, and so on — especially for black voters.
These laws don’t outright say that black voters are being targeted. But as a result of socioeconomic disparities, the restrictions disproportionately impact minority voters. For example, since minority Americans are less likely to have flexible work hours or own cars, they might have a harder time affording a voter ID or getting to the right place (typically a DMV or BMV office) to obtain a voter ID. They might rely more on early voting opportunities to cast a ballot. Or they might be more likely to require a nearby voting place they can walk to instead of one that’s a drive away from home or work.
Still, some of the Republicans who supported these measures outright admitted that they were meant to target black voters. The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, struck down North Carolina’s voting restrictions after concluding that the state’s law “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” in part because the state said as much in court, according to Judge Diana Gribbon Motz’s opinion (emphasis mine):
As “evidence of justifications” for the changes to early voting, the State offered purported inconsistencies in voting hours across counties, including the fact that only some counties had decided to offer Sunday voting. … The State then elaborated on its justification, explaining that “[c]ounties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic.” … In response, SL 2013-381 did away with one of the two days of Sunday voting. … Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.
Now, the impact of these voting restrictions isn’t normally enough to swing a national election. Studies show that restrictions like voter ID and early voting cuts tend to have little to no effect on voter turnout.
But the intent is still to suppress the black vote. And as Trump’s comments suggest, that’s something that many Republicans see as worth celebrating.