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Voter suppression

There are already troubling signs that major voter disenfranchisement is happening in the election

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Early voting in the presidential election is underway as we speak, but in many states, fewer black voters are going out to the polls compared with previous years. It’s hard to put a precise reason on why, but it is a bit disturbing to see some of these drops happening in states that have suppressed black votes in the past (and possibly present).

A New York Times analysis of the latest early voting data found slight increases in black early voters from 2012 in a handful of states, none by more than a few percentage points. But there were major drops in black early voting turnout in Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio, with less severe decreases noted in five other states. An analysis of Florida early voting data by University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith found the share of votes cast by black voters was down there as well, from about 25 to 15%.

There are lots of reasons this could be happening. Florida Democratic activists told Politico that the Clinton campaign had been doing a poor job of reaching out to black voters in the state. North Carolina has been dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane that caused a state of emergency in the state. And, some black voters say they are less excited about Hillary Clinton than they were about Barack Obama, which is sure to lead to some disparity.

But there have been a growing number of disturbing incidents raising questions about voter suppression and disenfranchisement in some of these states.

Counties in North Carolina are being sued by the NAACP over purges of thousands of people from the voter rolls. The basis for these cancellations, less than a month before the election? A single item of mail to the address on file was returned as undeliverable.

Let’s not forget that North Carolina just lost a major legal battle over its voter ID law back in July, with a federal court striking down several of its provisions. The court wrote at the time those provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Voter ID laws are also on the books in every one of the states above where turnout among black voters is down, although in cases such as Georgia and Ohio, they have been in place since the 1970s.

Georgia, one of the other states to see a big drop in early voting, is also facing some serious problems. The Washington Post quoted activists as saying as many as 100,000 voter registration applications had not been processed. And Gwinnett County, the second-most populous in the state where black voters recently became the majority, opened early voting with only one polling place, which was quickly overwhelmed.

There isn’t a direct line in any of these states between restrictions on voting and low black turnout. But none of these measures seems likely to increase turnout, either.