Forget the national tracking polls and the beltway media spin, voting has begun in many of the battleground states and the numbers so far look very strong for President Obama’s re-election.
What is also becoming clearer is that African-Americans in many of these battleground states are taking advantage of early voting in significant numbers.
It’s quite possible that this surge in African-American early voting turnout is a response to voter suppression tactics implemented in battleground states. These voter ID laws disproportionately impacted minority and young voters. It’s quite possible that in an effort to avoid any hassles, black voters are getting to the polls early.
African-Americans are 26 times more likely to vote early than in person in national elections.
It’s also possible these voters are even more motivated to vote in this election after the failed attempt by Republicans to infringe on their fundamental rights. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that early voting numbers are so high in key segments of the president’s base because of Obama’s massive get out the vote operation six years in the making.
National Field Director Jeremy Bird says that there is a common misconception about early voting. He wrote on a new Obama For America blog that, “[o]ur campaign is about inclusiveness, and we’ve always been focused on bringing new people into the process. As our supporters vote early in huge numbers around the country, we have the perfect example: We’re turning out voters who have been traditionally less likely to participate, sometimes called “sporadic” voters.
“A common misconception about early vote is that both parties have a set number of voters, and all early vote does is let some of them cast their ballots before Election Day. That’s simply not true. What early vote does is help us mobilize sporadic voters by giving them more time and more convenient ways to make their voices heard. It also broadens the universe of voters and frees up more of our get-out-the-vote resources later, especially on Election Day. When you look inside the numbers so far, among sporadic voters it’s not even close.”
By growing the electorate and targeting sporadic voters, many of whom are African-American, the Obama campaign hopes to prove the polls and conventional beltway wisdom wrong.
Nearly 6 million people have already voted and in important battleground states like North Carolina, 60 percent of the votes already cast have been in support of President Obama. Only 30 percent of early voters in North Carolina have been Romney voters.
This past Sunday, in big part thanks to “Souls to the Polls” (when African-Americans vote en masse after attending Sunday church services), over 10,000 African-Americans voted in North Carolina.
Overall, 24,000 North Carolinians have cast their ballots since early voting began 4 days ago, a total that is up 61 percent at the same point from 2008.
In another battleground with early voting, Ohio, attempts to cut back early voting time were considered a direct attempt to infringe on the “souls to the polls” tradition in many African-American communities. It’s likely the combination of suppression efforts and the push back against disenfranchisement both by the Obama campaign publicly and in court has created a scenario where more African-Americans will vote than four years ago.
Black voters may have taken their right to vote for granted but the risk of it being taken away has proven motivating.
Early voting allows for them to exercise this right at their own convenience, particularly voters with busy schedules and transportation needs.
It might be too early to know for sure whether African-American turnout will trump 2008 numbers, but there are plenty of signs, days and weeks into early voting, that they are on pace to set another record and might just win the president a second term.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell