By Erick Johnson
U.S. Senator Corey Booker dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on January 13. That leaves just one Black candidate – Deval Patrick – running for the White House. Judges are ordering states to purge voter registration rolls to the delight of political conservatives.
Blacks in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago and across the country may lose districts and federal funding if they fail to get counted in this year’s U.S. Census. A federal court has ruled that portions of Obamacare are unconstitutional, possibly sending the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot will not reopen six mental health clinics as she promised during her political campaign last year.
After months of waiting, Lightfoot is expected to push for a community benefits ordinance on the City Council in February as the city passes an ordinance to purchase seven of Reverend Leon Finney, Jr.’s former properties for a total of $3 million. Those properties will become part of an effort to help current residents stay in a neighborhood that’s seen real estate investment heat up for the Obama Presidential Center and Library in Jackson Park.
In 2020, Black America and Chicago are at a critical crossroads, but do Blacks still have a clear vision of the impact and significance of voting in this year’s presidential election?
The answer can be found by learning how Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded a sitting president to approve landmark legislation that would give equal voting rights that are under attack today.
Many Blacks will celebrate the King Day holiday this weekend with special breakfast events, parades and tributes, but in the coming months, people of color will either stay home or head to the polls to choose America’s next president.
Housing, unemployment, poverty, healthcare, education and criminal justice are affecting American Blacks everywhere. America’s commander-in-chief has the power to address these issues to improve the lives of Blacks, but with people of color still lagging behind whites, many people of color now firmly believe that President Donald Trump has ignored them in favor of his agenda to Make America Great Again.
Last October, a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 81 percent of Blacks believe Trump has had a negative effect for people of color, while just four percent say he has been positive for people of color.
Despite the poll, Trump is confident that he can win a chunk of the Black vote. Last November, Trump kicked off his new campaign with a “Black Voices for Trump” rally in Atlanta, where he said, “We’re going to campaign for every last African-American vote in 2020.”
Before a crowd of about 400 Blacks, Trump said, “We’ve done more for African Americans in three years than the broken Washington establishment has done in more than 30 years.” He added that “the Democratic Party already left you a long time ago. If you don’t want liberal extremists to run your lives, then today, we say welcome to the Republican Party.”
In 2016, low Black voter turnout was blamed for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump. It was a step backwards to the historic election in 2008 of Barack Obama, where turnout among Blacks was higher than other ethnic groups, including whites.
A national poll by Third Way and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies—a 50-year-old research center on Black community issues—showed 45 percent of 1,200 Blacks surveyed said they were more motivated to vote in 2020 than in 2016, and 40 percent said they were just as motivated as last time. A resounding 76 percent were “almost certain” to show up at the polls, the survey’s highest level of intensity.
Dr. King campaigned for equal voting rights when Blacks were subjected to literacy tests, harassment and beatings at precincts across the South. Dr. King urged then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass new legislation that would provide equal voting rights to Blacks, many of whom stopped going to the polls out of concern for their safety.
The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965
The new law authorized the U.S. Attorney General to send federal officials to the South to register Black voters in the event local registrars did not comply with the law. The act also authorized the federal government to supervise elections in districts that had disenfranchised Blacks. By the middle of 1966, over half a million Southern Blacks had registered to vote, and by 1968, almost 400 Black people had been elected to office.
Presently, political conservatives are succeeding in purging many voter registration rolls, including Black voters who have stayed away from the polls for various reasons.
On January 13, Paul Malloy, a judge in Wisconsin, found the state’s election commission to be in contempt and ordered the bipartisan panel to immediately begin removing up to 209,000 names from the state’s voter rolls or face $250 fines for each day they violate the court order.
Wisconsin is a battleground state that Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.
Democrats are on edge as they plan to hold their political convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city.
Democrats are fighting the lawsuit, saying the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans say they merely want to ensure that people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.
Republicans will hold their political convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, a fast-growing city that has attracted thousands of Black Democrats in the last several years.
Last December, Georgia purged 309,000 voters from its rolls in what state officials described as a routine “list maintenance.” In 2017, at least 670,000 voters in Georgia were purged from rolls as Stacy Abrams ran to become the state’s first Black female governor against eventual winner Brian Kemp. As Georgia’s Secretary of State, Kemp resigned amid suspicions that his position overseeing voter registrations gave him an advantage over his opponent.
Another concern among Black Americans is the upcoming 2020 Census count, which occurs every 10 years.
In 2010, the U.S. Census counted 37,144,530 Blacks, which made up over 12 percent of the total U.S. population.
Chicago households responded to the 2010 census at a rate of only 66 percent; whereas 74 percent of households responded nationwide according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Mayor Lightfoot has committed $7.7 million toward the Census. Governor J.B. Pritzker has designated $29 million through a 12-person advisory panel he established in 2019.
The 2020 Census will help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending and how many congressional seats each state gets.
The U.S. Census count begins on April 1.
After the 2010 Census, Illinois lost one Congressional seat due to the loss of population.
From 2014 to 2017, Illinois has experienced population loss each year, and population declined by more than 150,000 people—the largest decrease in the Midwest. Many Blacks in Chicago have moved back to the South as part of the nationwide “reverse migration.”
The lower Black population in Cook County has made the 2020 Census count a critical event that Black leaders say cannot undercount people of color.
Last May, the Chicago Urban League released a report, “The Economic and Political Impact of the 2020 Census on Illinois.” The report stated nearly 42 percent of Blacks in Illinois live in Hard to Count (HTC) census tracts, numbering more than 800,000 Illinoisans.
The report also showed Chicago ranks second in the country in the number of African Americans (600,000) who live in HTC tracts, and two-thirds of Blacks in Chicago (66.7 percent) live in HTC tracts.
There is also concern that the 2020 Census’ new use of computers and the internet to help count citizens will result in Blacks falling through the cracks because not all households have access to computers.
On January 10, the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau, claiming the agency wasn’t planning to put enough workers in the field and had not opened a sufficient number of field offices.
“These deficiencies will result in a massive and differential undercount of communities of color,” as stated in the lawsuit. “Such a dramatic undercount will especially dilute the votes of racial and ethnic minorities, deprive their communities of critical federal funds and undervalue their voices and interests in the political arena.”
The bureau denies those claims and say it plans to hire as many as 500,000 temporary workers. Many workers will knock on the doors of homes where people haven’t yet responded to the census.