Five million people of color made voting history in 2008

Will voting trend continue in 2012?

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) approximately five million more voters, including Blacks, Latinos and Asians, went to the polls in the historic 2008 presidential election in which America’s first Black president was elected. However, with the rise in voter suppression laws across the country since 2008, approximately five million voters are expected to be affected, says the ACLU. This includes Blacks and other people of color, the elderly, students, the poor and the disabled.

“I don’t think it was any accident that after 2008 we found these huge gains in Blacks and Latinos in voting, as well as Asian Americans and Native Americans voting, then all of a sudden all these Republican-held [state] legislatures decided that voter fraud is a problem,” notes University of Minnesota Journalism Professor Catherine Squires. “If voter fraud was a problem, it certainly was a problem in the 2000 and 2004 elections but Republicans didn’t rush to make these laws.”

Dr. Catherine Squires is a professor at the University of Minnesota and co-author of The Obama Effect.
Photo by Charles Hallman

Many political experts quickly point out that with disenchantment among some Blacks with President Obama, along with the voter-suppression laws now in place around the country, Black voters may not come out in the same record fashion in November as they did in 2008.

Squires, a co-editor of The Obama Effect (SUNY Press, 2010), which analyzed President Obama’s presidential campaign, says, “I haven’t been studying the media coverage of this election like I did in 2008.” Nonetheless, she has noticed a difference in how political pundits are operating in this election season: “I’m heartened by the fact that I see commentators who are trying to be more careful about how they talk about race and class, and gender.”

Although some Blacks weren’t pleased with the president’s opinion on same-sex marriage this past spring, this in itself won’t dissuade many voters away from him because of it, says Squires. “If someone is religious and they are going to vote primarily on religious principles that teach them that homosexuality is wrong, then they probably never was with the president anyway or the Democrats in general. But most people vote on a host of issues. People usually aren’t single-issue voters” especially Blacks, says Squires.

Jessica Evans-Nash wasn’t eligible to vote in 2008 — she didn’t turn 18 until after the presidential election. “Not [being] able to vote was disappointing — it was such a big thing and I couldn’t really make a difference,” she recalls.

Now 21, Evans-Nash plans to vote this November. “Just being able to know where I stand,” she explains, “the act of actually doing it is what I am getting excited about.”

However, several of her friends her age claim that they aren’t voting in November: “It’s not important to them,” she notes. “They don’t think their opinion or their thoughts matter.”

Scottie Floyd, now 47 years old, also is a first-time voter — ever. “I didn’t pay too much attention to it [before],” he admits. He did, however want to vote in 2008 but was incarcerated at the time. Floyd says he’s now registered and plans to vote in November.

“I don’t know about the percentage, but I think most Black folk still will vote for Obama,” proclaims retired Professor Mahmoud El-Kati. “He is the best candidate because he’s the best fit and the most modern [compared to] the other guy. That is why I will vote for him. It may not be as high [as 2008] because part of that has to do with the newness of it all, and the fact that we [as Blacks] were so proud to see a Black person run for office.”

El-Kati says proudly, “I know that voting has very limited influence on the body politic, where the final decisions are. In spite of that, I vote out of a tremendous and profound respect for those people who fought, lived, died and suffered — that’s the only reason why I vote. I’ve never missed a presidential election since I’ve been eligible to vote.”

“This year has been astounding on how eager people seem to be to restrict and to make it harder to vote than it ever has been in history since the Voting Rights Act created the safeguards that it did,” admits Squires, who adds that she believes that Blacks and Latinos again will be the difference in several swing states if the president is successful in his reelection bid. However, she is concerned about the negative tone of the campaign.

“I think that this time around…the gloves are really off,” Squires continues. The GOP campaign seeking White voters “is pretty brazen this year. You have people that are saying…that this president is un-American — this president doesn’t understand Americans, or that this president is giving reparations to Black Americans.”

She’s also noticed many anti-Obama bumper stickers “with a slash through [his name]” on the back of automobiles. “I regularly hear people talking about President Obama being treated as ‘the other.’ To me the conversation has become uglier in some quarters, but it also has gotten more sophisticated in other quarters.”

Evans-Nash is urging every eligible voter to choose between the two presidential candidates as well as other officials on the ballot. “If you like [President] Obama, vote for Obama. If you like Mitt Romney [then vote for him],” she strongly urges.

“Why would you not vote?” she asks. “It is a big thing to do.”


Information from the Summer 2012 ACLU National Newsletter also was used in this report.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to