The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012. The 7-percentage-point decline from the previous presidential election is the largest on record for blacks. It’s also the most significant percentage-point decline among any racial or ethnic group since white voter turnout dropped from 70.2% in 1992 to 60.7% in 1996. The number of black voters also declined, falling by about 765,000 to 16.4 million in 2016, representing a sharp reversal from 2012.
Despite our current political climate, the link between voting and social justice initiatives within the Black community remains a strong one. In 2016, the Black Civic Engagement Action Fund and other progressive allies conducted a survey to better understand the Black electorate and the issues most pressing to our communities. According to the survey results, Black people see voting as an essential tool for pushing policy reform. For example, 78% of respondents believe that if the Black community witnesses higher voter turnout rates, it can do two things:
- Increase their likelihood of shaping how legislation is passed
- Empower them to influence necessary, fundamental policy changes
Moreover, the Black community sees voting as one of several opportunities to impact some of the most poignant and divisive concerns facing today’s society – mass incarceration, police accountability, and criminal justice reform. According to the survey mentioned above, 90% of African Americans agree (74% strongly agree) that when they see coverage of police shootings of unarmed Black people, it makes them want to vote for political candidates who will reform police departments nationwide.
Both younger and older generations echoed the same sentiment, with 90% of Blacks under 40 (70% strongly agreed) and 91% of Blacks over 41 agreeing (78% strongly agreed) with this statement. Additionally, down-ballot races for prosecutors, school boards, and other local positions were mentioned as effective drivers for stoking Black voter turnout. Toward that end, The Urban League’s Community Convening and Social Justice Department is committed to the following:
- Registering African Americans and others to vote in all elections
- Access all voter platforms, such as early voting and absentee ballots
- Providing key voter information at events for our clients and the community.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Mark Hugo Lopez. “Black Voter Turnout Fell in 2016 US Election.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 27 Aug. 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/12/black-voter-turnout-fell-in-2016-even-as-a-record-number-of-americans-cast-ballots/.
“Mobilizing the Black Electorate, and Building a Movement.” Democracy Alliance, 9 Aug. 2018, democracyalliance.org/da-news/mobilizing-black-electorate-building-movement/.
2020 Voter Education and Mobilization Efforts
We hosted three community outreach events during the fall 2020 elections:
• On September 18, 2020, in partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder, we hosted a live radio event at Perry Publishing and Broadcasting radio station located on northeast 23rdStreet in Oklahoma City
• We hosted an on-air outside radio voter registration event on October 4, 2020, at the Urban League in partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Perry Publishing and Broadcasting
• In partnership with the Ice Event Center, we hosted a voter registration night on October 30, 2020
2020 Voter Outreach Efforts
During the fall 2020 elections, we contacted our clients via telephone, email, and information campaigns through our Urban League learning centers. We were able to help our clients access voter registration, absentee ballot applications, provide critical information on the early voting process, and helped them locate poll locations. Additionally:
• We connected with 2,530 of our Urban League clients via telephone before voter registration and absentee ballot application deadlines. We assisted clients with questions on both the voter registration application and the absentee ballot process. Also, we provided them with information on early voting and how to locate their polling place on election day
• We reached over 600 of our clients through our constant contact email system focusing on critical voter deadlines. We also sent our clients information on registering to vote, locating absentee ballot applications, and polling locations for early and election day voting
• In coordination with staff at the Oklahoma City Urban League’s Hope Centers and child learning sites, we sent 114 parents voter registration applications, absentee ballot information, and key dates for voting during the fall election cycle via the program’s weekend food distribution program
• We assisted 150 people with questions on polling locations and dates on early voting during our voter registration event at the Ice Events Center. Also, we handed out sample ballots and helped voters access information on candidates and state questions
• During the Thunder Voting Registration Event, we helped over 60 people register to vote, assisted them with questions on the absentee ballot, and provided important dates for early voting
2020 Election Outcomes
According to Presidential Election Data for Senate District 48 Polling locations, a key CCSJ focus area, the Urban League saw an additional 1,200 voters participate in the 2020 election.
2021 Voter Education and Mobilization Efforts
During the 2021 local election cycle, we are focusing on Oklahoma City School Board races. Candidates for those races include:
Board of Education Chairman race (city-wide election)
• Paula Lewis (Incumbent)
• Charles Henry
• Wilfredo Santos Rivera
District 1 Race
• Brett Hayes
• Carole Thompson
District 2 Race
• Lauri Bowman
• James McHenry
General Election Date: April 6th
• We hosted two virtual forums featuring Oklahoma City School Board Chairman candidates via zoom and posted on Facebook
• At this point, over 514 people have viewed our school board forums on the Urban League Facebook page
• Also, we contacted 1,853 Urban League clients via telephone. Our phone program has allowed us to disseminate information on school board candidates, how to register to vote, polling locations, and Covid-19 precautions for the February 9th election
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