Black votes do matter — if we vote

OPINION: This election is one of the most consequential because our democracy is on the ballot. With so many election deniers on the state and federal ballot, the last thing Black America should do is sit home and fret over their choices.

Voters cast early ballots at the Western Government Center
Voters cast early ballots at the Western Government Center in Henrico County, Va., October 29, 2022. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Election Day has been underway now for several weeks. Most voters have the option of casting their ballots early, or they have to make a plan to vote before the polls officially close. By all accounts, control of Congress and statehouses across the country will come down to a few states. Judging by some of the polls, Black votes matter — but only if Black voters vote.

Unfortunately, in most midterm elections, Black Americans vote at a lower rate than whites, weakening our ability to help elect candidates who are committed to eradicating systemic racism and opening the doors of opportunity for everyone, regardless of race. 

In the 2018 midterm elections, 57.5% of eligible whites voted but only 51.4% of eligible Blacks cast ballots, the Pew Research Center reported. Turnout rose in 2020 because it was a presidential election year, but the Black-white voting gap grew. While 70.9% of eligible whites cast ballots, only 62.6% of eligible Blacks voted.

This voting gap can become a self-inflicted wound that hurts all Black people because it makes it harder to elect candidates committed to fighting for racial justice, reproductive rights, affordable housing, education, small-business creation and other goals most Black Americans support. 

These goals include criminal justice reform, support for historically Black colleges and universities, job creation, reduced poverty, affordable health care, addressing the climate crisis, preservation of Social Security and Medicare, free and fair elections, expanded educational opportunities, a tax system that requires the rich to pay their fair share, and less crime as well as less police misconduct.

This election cycle is one of the most consequential because our democracy is on the ballot. With so many election deniers on the state and federal ballot, the last thing Black America should do is sit home and fret over their choices. There’s too much at stake to simply ignore the candidates on the right who have embraced former President Trump’s Big Lie and will likely use their political capital to back wrong-headed policies that would make things worse for Black Americans and other voters of color.

The Trump-backed MAGA Republicans’ solution to just about every problem is to cut taxes on the rich, cut regulations on corporations and cut government programs that benefit everyone else. Republicans want to turn back the clock on decades of Black progress like voting rights and affirmative action, which give us greater access and inclusion. 

The lower voting rate by Black Americans will only set things back for the progress we have made over the last two years, and it’s likely that we will not have a “seat at the table” in Congress or in many statehouses where we depend on having representatives who will have our back. All you have to do is look at the states across the country where Republicans have been working overtime to suppress the Black vote by changing state laws wherever they can or why conservatives on the Supreme Court have weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965, devastated a woman’s right to the full range of reproductive health care and are likely to gut affirmative action. 

There’s still time for everyone to cast their ballots and to heal our self-inflicted wound of low Black voter turnout. Millions of people have already voted early ahead of Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8. We need as many Black people as possible to join the ranks of voters. 

Democrats have nominated 111 Black candidates for governorships, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate in this year’s midterms, making up 23% of their candidates for the posts. Republicans have nominated 31 Black candidates for these offices, making up just 6% of their candidates. That should tell you something.

When I was growing up near New Orleans in the early 1960s, my grandparents and parents and millions of other Black people in the South weren’t allowed to vote, even though the Constitution was specifically amended after the abolition of slavery to guarantee Black men the right to vote.

Poll taxes, crazy tests (like being required to say how many bubbles were in a bar of soap), threats of being fired from their jobs, threats of violence and acts of violence by the Ku Klux Klan and others kept my parents and earlier generations from casting ballots.

A key goal of the civil rights movement was to make voting rights for Black people a reality. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., many other Black Americans and our white allies campaigned for the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson lobbied for passage of the bill in Congress and signed it into law. This was a game-changer.

Before we had voting rights, Black people had no power in the halls of government and in politics. Candidates for elected office had no incentive, other than standing up for justice, to advocate for our civil rights and for funding programs to meet our needs.

Dr. King and other courageous men and women were murdered for working to bring us voting rights. The late John Lewis, who later became a Democratic congressman from Georgia, was among the many heroes savagely beaten by white racists for taking part in the voting rights crusade.

Voting in the rapidly approaching midterm elections is not a life-threatening activity. You can do it easily. You can vote absentee by mailing in your ballot or placing it in a drop-box. You can vote in person at an early voting site. And, of course, you can vote at your local polling place on Election Day. It used to take courage for Black people to vote. Thanks to the courage of those who did, today it simply takes commitment. 

The website, run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, has information on where and how you can vote. If you experience any problems, please call (866) OUR-VOTE.

Don’t squander the precious right to vote that was denied to Black people for so much of American history — a right that an earlier generation fought so hard to achieve and sometimes died for. Don’t just complain about our country’s problems to your family and friends. Vote for candidates who will make things better. Stand in your power and proudly vote this Nov. 8.

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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