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Black Voters Are Energized. Political Experts Explain Why

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Hundreds of citizens came out on a Saturday in October to cast their ballot at the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Birmingham ahead of the November 3. general election. (Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times)
By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times

Angela Lewis-Maddox, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) who has taught political science classes for two decades, said in a recent interview, “I have never seen such massive investment in people voting across the country.”

In Jefferson County, thousands went to the downtown Birmingham and Bessemer courthouses to stand in lines that formed as early as 6 a.m. for in-person absentee voting that began at 9 a.m. on consecutive Saturdays—one with freezing temperatures and the other with heavy rain. Lines at both locations remained steady throughout the week, as well.

Why the outpouring of so many voters, especially African-Americans? Political experts pointed to several reasons.

“We do have some in the Black community who might not have been comfortable with [Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Senator] at the top of the ticket [in 2016],” said Lewis-Maddox, Ph.D., referring to voters with more moderate beliefs. “Kamala Harris’s presence on the ticket signals to some people that they are represented, so her identity as a Black woman and her moderate leanings encourage those people to show up at the polls.”

The lack of Black voters in the 2016 election ushered in a President Donald Trump administration, and many Blacks don’t want to “repeat the same mistake,” according to one analysis of the early turnout on pennlive.com.

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Dr. Marissa Grayson, associate professor of political science at Samford University, agreed that the enthusiasm from Black votes could be tied to Trump.

“Candidates can inspire people to turn out,” she said, pointing to Trump’s comments on law and order, which have come at a time when many in the Black community are concerned about police brutality. “I think that’s motivating people to show up and vote early, even if they have to stand in line. I think we’re seeing a lot of first-time voters, and turnout [for the general election] will be high.”

In Jefferson County, more than 2,000 turned out on two Saturdays this month for in-person absentee voting and thousands work voted during the weekdays, and Grayson was not surprised to see the large number of voters.

“The fear of voter suppression may be causing people to want to show up and see their ballot actually get handed to someone,” she said, adding that in-person absentee voting helps people know their vote is counted and can mitigate some of the issues with voting on election day, such as long lines and concerns about COVID-19.

Latosha Billups was among the thousands in line early to cast a ballot at the downtown Birmingham courthouse. She said the country feels divided and this election is a chance to “bring back unity, brotherly love, health, and equal opportunity.” The 38-year-old Trussville resident added that it’s also important to remember “what voting means and how much we’ve had to fight to even get this [right to vote].”

Monica Leach was also at the downtown courthouse this month. She is voting for a better country, she said.

“It’s important for us to exercise our right to vote,” said the 52-year-old Pinson resident, who also has worked to get others to the polls. “America is dependent on everyone to get out and make a positive selection for the better. I have printed out more than one absentee ballot and have picked up people to take them to the polls.”

Willie Givens, a Northside resident who went downtown Birmingham to cast his ballot early, said he votes for the future of his children.

“Education, the environment, … there are a lot of issues going on,” he said. “I encourage my friends and family to get out and vote because it’s time for change. We need a leader who stands up behind what he says.”

Updated at 10:38 p.m. on 11/1/2020 to correct titles on Dr. Angela Lewis-Maddox.  

Click one of the links below to read more election stories. 

Vote or Die: Birmingham-Area Residents on What Nov. 3 Means

What To Know About Absentee Voting, Swing States and the Electoral College

Frequently Asked Questions-And Answers For Election Day

Jackie Anderson-Smith: Jeffco Official in Center of Absentee Voting Storm