Michigan middle of the pack in minority political engagement, study shows

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Capital News Service 

LANSING — Michigan is almost right in the middle of all states in the level of political engagement of its African American voters, a new study shows.

With the 2020 presidential election in November and black voter turnout falling since the 2012 presidential election, Democratic candidates are vying for support from African Americans to unseat President Donald Trump.

African American voters accounted for 18% of Democratic voters in Michigan’s March 10 primary, and candidate Joe Biden received 66% of their votes, according to exit polling by Edison Media Research, based in New Jersey. 

A U.S. Census Bureau study shows that voting rates among African Americans dropped nearly 7% between 2012 and 2016 nationally. 

Then-President Barack Obama, who is black, was running for reelection in 2012, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is white, was the Democratic nominee in 2016.

The new report by WalletHub ranks Michigan as the No. 23rd state for African Americans’ political engagement.WalletHub is a financial website that gathers data and financial information.

Minnesota ranked No. 1. The lowest-ranked was South Dakota, and Montana wasn’t ranked. 

Looming now are the Aug. 8 primary elections for U.S. Senate and House, state House and local offices and the Nov. 3 presidential election. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty over in-person, mail-in and absentee ballot access for votes.

Organizations like Progress Michigan and MichiganVoting.org are working to make sure that state residents know their rights and how to vote. 

Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, said of African American political participation: “I believe this year, it will turn around. All of us have a job to do. We need to encourage folks to get out and vote.”

She says an important part of getting people to vote — and not only African Americans –, is showing the work politicians do in their communities.

“I’ve recently been working on a project to help bring washer and dryer machines to schools,” said Johnson, as an example of one way she is trying to help constituents see the importance of the electoral process.

The WalletHub study is based on statistics for black voter registration, turnout during the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterm election, the percentage of black state legislators per black population and the percentage of black delegates at national party conventions.

Johnson said one reason voter participation will jump this year is Proposal 3, a 2018 state constitutional amendment that allows voters to register online — something that wasn’t widely available during the 2016 presidential election.

Sharon Dolente, a voting rights strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the state had “an archaic system,” with rules and requirements that didn’t match today’s landscape.

Dolente said that many barriers keep a lot of Michigan citizens from voting, regardless of ethnicity. For example, residents often wrongly assume that they need a photo ID to register.

Now that the focus has turned to the presidential election, part of the ACLU’s mission is using resources like MichiganVoting.org to push people of all backgrounds to take part in democratic government.

The site is backed by the ACLU and was one of Dolente’s main projects ahead of the March primary. 

It has a hot line, “866-Ourvote,” that Dolente says can answer callers’ questions regarding their ability to register or cast a ballot.

Dolente said that what some voters often think as barriers — no photo ID or a criminal record — still can’t keep them from registering.

“It’s misinformation. We’re trying to clean that stuff up,” she said.

Dale Copedge, the president of the Lansing branch of the NAACP, said a lot of the drop off in black voting was due to the lack of Democratic campaigning in African American communities. 

The NAACP partners with organizations in communities across Michigan, including the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which is sometimes called the “Divine Nine,” a group of historically African American fraternities and sororities.

But Copedge said partnering with prominent college organizations isn’t the only way to grow voter turnout.

“It’s about reaching out into communities,” Copedge said. “Not just on campuses.”

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