Special Report

Election 2012

Black Voters Face Pressure from Voting Restrictions and from One Another

Racial pressures flare as election tension heats up as seen on the steps of the capitol building in Texas United States

Some African-American voters feel they are under pressure in the Nov. 6 elections, whether it is pressure to back President Barack Obama, criticism about blacks voting by race or difficulty registering to vote because of new restrictions in a number of states or lack of citizenship.

Wanda Ward wants to be clear that she supports Obama not because he’s black and she’s black, but because she likes his character and his policies.

When Obama won the presidency in 2008, 96 percent of black voters cast their ballots for him, according to the Pew Research Center. Black Americans constitute 14 percent of the U.S. population, and 76 percent of them identify as Democrats, Pew reports.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported that the majority of black voters have supported Democrats for president since the mid-1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, oversaw passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to end racial discrimination. Black voters are expected to support Obama this year, in the race against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, by a margin of 97 to 3 percent.

The Pew Research Center reports that African-Americans made up 12.1 percent of the 131 million Americans who voted in 2008.

“Everyone expects black people to vote for Obama because we’re black,” said Ward, a black community member and graphic arts designer. “People think that people stick with their race, that’s the American way, people stick to themselves.

“I know black people who aren’t voting for Obama or don’t care for Obama. Honestly, I think that what gives him such clout is that he is an upstanding member of our community, he’s pretty clean cut, and also he’s down to earth, not white washed,” she said, adding that Obama’s marriage to a black woman, and his involvement with their two daughters, “gives us as minorities something to relate to, but that’s not why we’re voting; it’s just nice to see.”

Chris Hayes, host of the MSNBC opinion show “Up with Chris Hayes,” said on television that the claim that blacks vote by race more than other groups is ridiculous.

“The history of the American republic is black people having to vote for white people,” said Hayes, who is white. “No one votes for people of a different race more—more reliably and historically—than African-Americans, who just have been voting for white people for years and years and years and years. And you know who votes for white people, also? White people vote for white people.”

Still, some African American voters feel pressure to conform. Lisa Bayard, 22, a black woman and Obama supporter from Philadelphia, says the pressure started as the election heated up.

“All year around people barely care what’s going on but, come election time, black folks start antagonizing you on your beliefs and values and, if you don’t do this or vote for that, your community will suffer,” she said. “It’s just a major controversy.”

Changes to voting regulations also pose challenges, especially to minority groups, according to civil rights organizations. Fourteen states tightened voting regulations, with measures that range from requiring voter identification and limiting the acceptable forms of ID, to altering the voter registration process or disenfranchising felons.

NBC News reported that about one in eight African Americans would be unable to vote because of these changes.

Although courts have barred several states from implementing the laws during this election, the restrictions may still have an impact.

Minority empowerment groups have reacted to these new restrictions by criticizing measures they believe will repress voting by minority groups, especially African-Americans. The NAACP held a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to try to raise international awareness of these issues.

“In the past year, more states in this country have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any point since the dawn of Jim Crow,” NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous told the meeting, referring to the racial segregation laws in the South that were overturned in the 1960s.

Even without the changes in registration, some African-Americans would be left out of the balloting. Immigrants from Africa totaled 1.6 million in 2010, 4.6 percent of those immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens, and immigrants from all lands account for 6.5 percent of voters, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

Salef Abou, a new citizen from the West African country of Mali, has not registered to vote and said he doesn’t understand how the American political system works.

“In Mali, we use the French political system. We have assemblies,” Abou, a student at LaGuardia Community College, said in French. “This Congress—Senate system I know nothing about.” If he were to vote, he said that Obama would be his choice.

Abou’s boss at the Central Park bicycle touring center is Mark Diop, a citizen whose parents come from Senegal. Diop said he thinks “old school” Mitt Romney is going to lose to Barack Obama.

“I’m voting for Obama because he’s more in touch with the middle class, [which I] would definitely consider myself a member,” he said.

Modest Akre an African immigrant from Burkina Faso, who has permanent resident status, has been working in this country for over three years but does not have citizenship or the right to vote.

“I would like to vote,” he said in French. “I pay many taxes each year, but I have no rights to say what I think about how this country is run. It’s the same in many other countries, so I just accept it.”

For many black Americans and immigrants from Africa, the 2012 elections are a time to reflect on what it really means to have a voice and to vote. For Diop, it means thinking about his parents.

“My mom works at a restaurant and my dad as a taxi driver,” he said. “Both of them pay taxes but neither of them can vote.”



Other Stories in Special Report: Election 2012

Minnesotans reject amendment to ban same-sex marriage

Kelsey Kudak November 7, 2012

Divided Electorate Votes to Give Obama More Time

Alex Jung November 7, 2012

How GenY Voted

Staff of The Beat Covering GenY November 6, 2012

North Carolina: Amendment One and the Black Vote

Alaia Howell November 6, 2012

Swing state students debate: absentee ballot or register at school?

Alyson Penn November 6, 2012

What’ll it Be, Mr. President?

Suzie Hodges November 6, 2012

Stand By Your Man

Cristina Alonso November 6, 2012

Third party candidates: A long shot worth taking?

Joanna Marshall November 6, 2012

Colia Clark, Green Party candidate for Senate, Strives for Change

Robert Tutton November 6, 2012

Hydrofracking Becomes Issue in State Senate Race

Will Dietrich-Egensteiner November 6, 2012

A Warzone of Harassing Comments

Angela Flynn November 6, 2012

Harnessing the Youth Vote in 2012

Alena Hall November 6, 2012

From Assembly to Congress?

laura li November 6, 2012

A group of New Yorkers canvas in Philadelphia

Sarah Gray November 6, 2012

Chappaqua’s most famous residents: the Clintons

Laura Gurfein November 5, 2012

Chinese-American voters support Obama

Jia Guo November 5, 2012

West Africans views of the 2012 U.S. presidential election

Lauren Morton November 4, 2012

Key voter demographic: homeowners facing foreclosure

Eric Zerkel November 4, 2012

Carbon neutral cupcakes for Obama

Lori-Lee Emshey November 4, 2012

Saturdays for Obama

Laura Entis November 4, 2012

For Politico blogger Alex Burns covering the presidential campaign is science

Alissa Katz November 4, 2012

Brooklyn Tea Party President Runs for NY State Assembly

Renee Jacques November 4, 2012

Upcoming Election Provokes Anxiety for Trans Voters

Alex Jung November 4, 2012

Student’s choice: where one votes matters

Sarah Wentz November 4, 2012

A catch-22 for evangelical Latino voters

Corrie Mitchell November 4, 2012

Knitting and purling for Obama

Megan Soll November 4, 2012

Perspectives on New York’s new Congressional districts

Lila Selim November 2, 2012

American Catholics Divided over Politics of Contraception and Poverty

Peter DAmato November 2, 2012

Felons disenfranchised in New York and other states, despite the law

Emma Quail October 31, 2012

Technology challenges privacy during election campaigns

Anna Callaghan October 31, 2012

US foreign policy success in Burma overshadowed in election

Elizabeth Shim October 31, 2012

Local politicians court city’s Arab-American vote

Jackson Perry October 30, 2012

NYU students hustle to get the vote out

Sara Afzal October 29, 2012

The “Moho” Vote

Nicole Disser October 29, 2012

‘Stamp Stampede’ at Union Square

Morgan Ribera October 25, 2012

Home call centers foster camaraderie among volunteers

Ted Simmons October 18, 2012

Voices outside of the Hofstra Presidential Debate

Colleen Quigley October 16, 2012