What’s Going on With Black Voter Turnout in North Carolina?

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Black voter turnout, crucial to Clinton’s chance of success in the state, is down.

By Dwyer Gunn

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A man votes on November 8th, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

North Carolina is a crucial swing state in this election. Donald Trump’s path to victory is quite narrow if he doesn’t win the state. Hillary Clinton has other paths to 270 electoral votes, but both candidates have campaigned aggressively in the state — Trump called for a new deal for black America in Charlotte several weeks back, and both Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Clinton herself, have stumped in North Carolina in recent weeks. At present, the candidates appear to be tied in the state.

The Clinton campaign’s hopes rest heavily on the state’s black voters, but early black voter turnout in the state is down. Last night, the North Carolina GOP published a press release boasting that the “vaulted Clinton ground game has been buried in North Carolina by the Republican effort, thus far.” According to the press release, African-American early voting is down 8.5 percent, in comparison to 2012, while Caucasian voting is up 22.5 percent.

The Clinton campaign has long worried about low levels of black enthusiasm for their candidate, and many of Obama’s speeches in the state have focused specifically on black voters, but that’s not the only thing affecting early voter turnout. North Carolina was recently hit by a devastating hurricane, and, back in 2013, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a new election law that imposed strict voter ID requirements and restricted early voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting, the use of provisional ballots, and pre-registration. A federal appeals court struck down the law, accusing the GOP of targeting African-American voters with “surgical precision” and concluding that “the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

Yet the state’s Republican party has only continued its shenanigans. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party urged county election boards to restrict early voting hours, a call that several counties heeded. The state also has 27 fewer polling places than it did in 2012, which voting rights lawyers say resulted in longer lines. A week ago, insightus, a North Carolina statistics blog, examined black voter turnout in counties affected by Hurricane Matthew, counties affected by voter suppression tactics, and unaffected counties. Here’s what insightus found:

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(Chart: insightus)

“The take-home lesson here is that Mother Nature hath no fury like a Republican pol scorned: while flooding of biblical proportions certainly hasn’t helped voter turnout, this year voter suppression appears to substantially outstrip Hurricane Matthew as a force depressing North Carolina’s African American vote,” the blog concludes. “Of course, it still must be explained why black voting is also slightly down in the state’s unimpaired counties, and here a variety of factors are no doubt at play, ranging from mild voter disengagement to forms of voter suppression more subtle than locked polling place doors.”

Insightus’ analysis relies on numbers from the first week of early voting (black voter turnout increased in the second week of early voting), so it’s not clear if the picture looks different today. It also remains to be seen whether lower early black voter turnout in North Carolina will be balanced by higher election-day turnout. A variety of organizations are working furiously to get out the vote in the state.

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