Politics & Government

Black voters smaller slice of early voting in SC

Residents lined up to vote absentee at the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office in Columbia on Wednesday.
Residents lined up to vote absentee at the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office in Columbia on Wednesday. gmelendez@thestate.com

Democrats’ hopes of holding on to the White House next week may depend on getting African-American voters — one of the party’s core constituencies — to the polls. But there are signs black voters are not casting as many ballots as they did four years ago in several states, including in South Carolina.

Through Wednesday, 106,141 black S.C. voters have returned absentee ballots to state election offices after about three weeks of absentee voting. Black voters make up 31 percent of the 339,988 ballots cast thus far during the early voting period.

In 2012, with President Barack Obama on the ticket, 167,338 black S.C. voters cast absentee ballots, accounting for 42 percent of early votes.

Nationwide, African-Americans are failing to vote at the robust levels they did four years ago in several states that could help decide the presidential election, creating a problem for Democrat Hillary Clinton as she clings to a deteriorating lead over Republican Donald Trump.

In North Carolina, where a federal appeals court accused Republicans of an “almost surgical” assault on black turnout and Republican-run election boards curtailed early-voting sites, black turnout is down 16 percent. White turnout, however, is up 15 percent.

In Florida, African-Americans’ share of the electorate that has gone to the polls in person so far also has decreased, to 15 percent today from 25 percent four years ago.

In Ohio, which also cut back its early voting, voter participation in heavily Democratic areas near Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo has been down.

One of the biggest uncertainties that Democrats have been forced to confront in this election is whether Obama’s absence from the ticket would depress black enthusiasm, at historic levels in 2008 and 2012.

The Clinton campaign thinks it can close the gap, especially in North Carolina and Florida, by Election Day.

Democrats also are seeing substantial gains in turnout for other key constituencies like Hispanics and college-educated women, which have the potential to more than make up for any drop-off in black voting.

The New York Times and staff writer Bristow Marchant contributed

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