As the results from Tuesday’s presidential election rolled in state by state, half of the country responded with shock and disbelief. Throughout social media, post after post inquired how a Ku Klu Klan-endorsed candidate with no previous political experience, numerous accusations of sexual assault and multiple lawsuits could so quickly ascend to the highest office in the land.
By the end of the night (or, more accurately the beginning of the next morning) ‘what happened’ had become crystal clear: white voters stole the show. Many of the counties, rural and otherwise, previously won by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012 had now gone red. Registered Democrats in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania voted for Donald Trump in large numbers. We also know turnout among white voters in Florida, another crucial swing state, was through the roof; over 900,000 more white voters showed up at the polls than in 2012. In a shocking rejection of gender representation, white women, particularly those without college degrees, chose Trump in a greater margin than they did Mitt Romney, and even John McCain.
Let’s be clear as to why this came as a shocker virtually everyone at the DNC headquarters: though the support of white men has long been lost to the Republican Party, white women have been a strong base for Democrats for many, many moons.
That all changed Tuesday, of course.
But the real heartbreak of the election demographics wasn’t who showed up to the polls, but rather those who couldn’t in the wake of a wave of voter suppression tactics that swept the country since the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.
In June of 2013, the Court struck down what was arguably the most integral part of the VRA, Section 5, which stipulated that states must gain approval from the federal government before changing election laws.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the majority opinion. “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Despite a myriad of news reports, public opinion and countless personal anecdotes from people of color, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court proudly proclaimed from the bench that the racism that antagonized our grandparents was not the racism of today. But Roberts has held that stance for decades.
Author and investigative journalist Ari Berman writes that upon graduating law school and finding a home in the Reagan Administration, Roberts “eagerly took up the conservative cause, becoming a key foot soldier in the effort to preserve that decision and weaken the VRA.”
Roberts was tasked with arguing against Section 2 of the VRA, which required plaintiffs to present only proof of the effects of discriminatory voting practices, and not the intent to discriminate.
Berman claims that, through a multitude of ghost-written op-eds in major news publications, Roberts argued that retaining Section 2 of the VRA would ultimately lead to racial quotas—something that those on the right have long argued is antithetical to the idea of democratic representation.
In the end, Roberts’ witchhunt failed, and Congress extended its protection of the VRA for 25 years. So in 2013, upon being confronted with another opportunity to decimate the legislation he thought was unduly fair to minorities, his decision to jump on it surprised no one. We owe the pathetic voter turnout exhibited on Tuesday to him and the rest of his conservative colleagues on the bench.
Over 850 polling places that existed during the 2012 presidential election were no more come 2016. In states like Wisconsin, where the race between Trump and Clinton came down to the wire, over 300,000 registered voters were turned away due to the state’s strict laws on proper photo ID. Voter turnout in the state was the lowest in 20 years and, to no one’s surprise, most pervasive in minority-heavy areas.
In an undeniably discriminatory move, North Carolina officials severely limited polling places (from 16 to 1 in one particular majority-black county) and all but abolished weekend voting, stating that it “wasn’t a necessity.”
This drastically impacted many Black churches who attempted to enact “souls to the polls,” an initiative where buses or other forms of free transportation take churchgoers to and from the polls after Sunday service, when most of their congregation has more availability.
Such incidents also occurred in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas and many more. Even with the data on those Black voters sent home from their polling places, there is a strong chance that the scope of these measures impacted a wider range of individuals.
And while some may seek to pin this on the 8 percent of Black voters who (for reasons I cannot possibly fathom) voted for Donald Trump, the real blame lays at the feet of officials who have dedicated their entire careers to re-disenfranchising Black Americans, once again reminding us that our citizenship in this country is and has always been conditional.
America would rather attempt to ‘empathize’ with voters who, either directly or indirectly, espoused Jim Crow-esque bigotry alongside their presidential candidate than forge a collective effort remove the barriers to participation marginalized communities have long faced.
So cheers to John Roberts. It may have taken you 30 years, but you finally got what you wished for.