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Unlikely voters hold key for Democrats

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

It’s no accident that those least likely to vote in the midterms are young, minorities, and lower-income persons. They are traditionally the most marginalized, and the least apt to be the target of any prolonged, focused, civic, or political engagement effort by not just the GOP but Democrats too. It becomes a two-way street, the parties make no real effort to engage them and in return, there’s no real sense on their part of a need to engage in the political process. Policy issues are seen as remote, removed or even non-existent in terms of having any direct connection or meaning to their lives.

Presidential and congressional candidates fiercely arm wrestle over ways to best bring down the deficit, reduce spending, decrease taxes and get rid of wasteful programs. They also spar hard over how best to protect the interests of the middle class. It’s about votes, and a pro-middle-class, cut government spending line appeals to centrists and independents.

They, not the poor, are the voters the GOP and Democrats depend on to be the path to or back to the White House. The lack of engagement with the poor, disdain or at best indifference to them, coupled with the spate of laws that make it harder and harder for many persons to vote, all work in tandem to further ensure that millions tune out to politicians and politics.

The terrible reality is that parties are far more likely to woo, court, and aim their pitches at white middle-class voters in the crucial swing states. Minority, and especially minority low-income voters and young voters are, as the complaint is often heard, taken for granted by the Democrats and routinely written off as not in play “for us” by the GOP.     

The deliberate barriers that have been erected for poor and minority voters since 2010 to damp down their vote numbers are formidable. One is the availability and accessibility of polling places. There are fewer of them in minority communities.

The GOP-controlled state legislature in Texas, for instance, led the charge to close even more polling places in minority communities before the 2020 presidential election. The graph of the closures in one key county tells the sordid tale of suppression.

There’s also the issue of language and the ballot. A ballot must be in the language of the relevant minority group. However, there are ways to skirt that. One way is crunching the numbers. The law states that the number of Limited English Proficiency citizens of voting age must exceed 10,000 for the ballot to be in the language of the voters. That’s 5% of all eligible voters. With all Native American reservation residents, the number must exceed 5%.

Another requirement is that the illiteracy rate of the minority population must also be higher than the national illiteracy rate. How and who determines what illiteracy is and who is illiterate? This is often little more than a judgment call. If the call is that there is no illiteracy issue or language issue in a particular voting district that’s heavily or exclusively minority, the legal requirement about language ballots goes out the window.

Some states make strenuous efforts to ensure that ballots are in native languages such as Chinese, Gujarati, Korean and Spanish. They also must ensure there is no discrimination in polling placement, that same-day voting extends longer and that there is wide use of mail-in balloting. The problem is these states are mostly lockdown Democratic voter states. California, for instance, has majority-minority voting numbers.

GOP governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures have moved in the opposite direction in their states to narrow down or outright scrap measures to ease voting. Yet, in states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas, there are significant numbers of Black, Hispanic and Native American voters. Hispanic voters in particular make up a big, growing and potentially potent political force in key Red States:

In February, Biden announced he authorized millions more to the Democratic National Committee for voter outreach. He and the Democrats will need every penny of it. The GOP House and Senate campaign committees for their part made clear they were going for broke in spending on the 2022 midterms.

The Democrats fate in the midterms will hinge on getting as many non-voters out and voting Democrat as possible.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

Black voters, Minority voters