Robin Smith, Democratic candidate for Missouri secretary of state (center), with U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and her husband, Isaac “Bud” Stallworth

Robin Smith, Democratic candidate for Missouri secretary of state (center), with U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and her husband, Isaac “Bud” Stallworth. Smith said that Cleaver, her campaign team and Hillary Clinton “are focusing with laser precision on turning out” the black vote in Missouri on November 8. Photo courtesy of Robin Smith

Eligible black voters participated in the 2012 general election at a higher rate than the members of any other racial or ethnic group, leading to President Barack Obama’s reelection after four years of relentless Republican attacks and obstruction by Congress.

According to a new Nielsen poll commissioned by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Hillary Clinton should enjoy a similar black surge at the polls on Tuesday, November 8 when she faces Donald Trump for U.S. president.

At all levels of education and income, in every region of the country, an overwhelming majority of black men and women told pollsters they saw the 2016 race as a high-stakes election (though the higher the level of education, the more likely a person planned to vote).

Not surprising, given that nearly a dozen women have come forward claiming that Trump sexually assaulted them (which he denied, in every instance), more black women (87 percent) than black men (80 percent) said they believed the 2016 presidential election's outcome would be very important. The report notes that “high incarceration rates and felon disenfranchisement” for black men also helps to account for the gender disparity.

The poll confirmed the widespread impression that black millennials are less motivated to vote in this election than older African Americans. Nearly all blacks age 65 and over polled – 98 percent – said they consider this election “very important,” while only 80 percent of those between 18-29 made that judgment.

And, a good sign for Missouri’s other statewide Democratic candidates, blacks in the Midwest polled were more likely to say they planned to vote than blacks in other parts of the country – 90 percent in the Midwest, compared to 89 percent in the Northeast, 84 percent in the South and 83 percent in the West.

In Missouri, there are close races for governor, U.S. senator, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer on the November 8 ballot. Robin Smith, who faces the son of John Ashcroft for secretary of state, stands a chance of becoming the first African American elected to statewide office in Missouri, creating another incentive for black voters in Missouri.

“We are seeing that African-American voters are energized by my candidacy, which will make history for all persons of color,” Smith told The American. Other Democratic candidates will benefit from her campaign’s outreach to black voters as well. “Studies of electoral patterns have shown that, for U.S. president and U.S. Senate seats and all the way down the ballot, the African-American vote is critical to Democrats winning,” Smith said.

Black turnout is particularly critical to Missouri Democrats on November 8 because polling on many of the races – including governor and U.S. senator – are incredibly close.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed supports Chris Koster, a Democrat, for governor because he has pledged to fully fund the public schools foundation formula and expand health care to benefit from billions in federal funds available to states that expand Medicaid.

“Polls are neck-and-neck,” Nasheed told The American. “That’s why it's critical for the black community in St. Louis to vote on November 8.”

Gwen Reed, Spanish Lake Township committeewoman, made the same appeal for Jason Kander, who has received tremendous national attention for polling even with Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Roy Blunt.

“Don’t stop at the top,” Reed urged voters. “Vote all the way down the ballot.”

Teresa Hensley, Democratic nominee for Missouri attorney general, was unequivocal about the importance of the black vote.

"Outside of the urban areas and university towns, this is a Trump state,” Hensley told The American. “No Democrat, including me, will be elected in Missouri in November unless African Americans come out to the polls and vote. The consequence of not voting in this election means my opponent could win. He has already broadcast his willingness to put his personal beliefs above enforcing the laws of this state fairly and equally.”

Trump calls for poll trolls

Well aware that a large majority of black and Latino voters oppose him, Trump has encouraged his supporters to monitor polls “in certain areas,” which was understood to be code for precincts with a large majority of minority voters.

Roger Stone, a Trump supporter, also founded Stop the Steal in April to recruit “vote protectors” to conduct exit polls in “targeted localities that we believe the Democrats could manipulate based on their local control,” according to its website. This was called “vigilante voter intimidation” in a suit the Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed against Trump, Stone and his political action committee in federal court.

The suit claims that “Trump’s calls for unlawful intimidation have grown louder and louder, and the conspiracy to harass and threaten voters on Election Day has already resulted in acts that threaten the voting rights” of registered voters.

The Trump campaign, which has an online sign-up form for “Trump election observers,” said it has been following the law and is “not affiliated” with Stone’s group.

Eric Fey, Democratic director of elections for St. Louis County, said the election board has received a few calls from people either concerned about the potential for “Trump poll watchers” or from folks wanting to know how to be a "poll watcher."

“We have reassured folks that state law strictly limits the types of people who can be in a polling place and that official political party observers (they are referred to as ‘challengers’ under Missouri law) must be appointed by the chairperson of the political party and subsequently authorized by the election board,” Fey said.

“Our election judges are well briefed on who is and who is not allowed inside the polling place. If an unauthorized person tries to enter a polling place we have contingencies in place to handle the situation.”

Nevertheless, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is working with the Mound City Bar Association, the MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis and other groups to protect against voter intimidation at local polls. The night before the election, on Monday, November 7, they will hold a training at the MacArthur Justice Center, 3115 S. Grand Blvd. suite 300. Contact Vic Wu at NAACP-LDF (vwu@naacpldf.org) to sign up. On election day, they will staff polling places to help educate voters and monitor polls.

“This has been a year of intolerance, fear-mongering and runaway special interests,” Judy Baker, Democratic candidate for state treasurer, told The American. “The only way we deliver our message of tolerance, diversity, and opportunity for all is to VOTE!”

Though demographic data are not available, Fey said that the absentee ballot count suggests that the overall voter turnout in 2016 will be comparable to 2012.

“To this point, we have had 40,760 absentee ballots cast; 20,425 have been cast in person and 20,329 through the mail,” Fey said late afternoon on November 1. “The in-person numbers are a bit ahead of 2012 by about 1,000 votes, but the mail-in numbers are trailing 2012 by a similar amount.”

Mary Wheeler-Jones, Democratic director of elections for St. Louis, said city absentee voters are behind their pace in Obama’s two elections. As of November 1, the city election board had received about 6,000 absentee ballots cast, with about 3,000 of those walk-ins. She said there were about 7,000 walk-in absentee voters in 2012 and about 8,000 in 2008. 

City election officials have no concerns about Trump poll trolls. “The poll workers are very informed as to who can and cannot be in the polling places,” Wheeler-Jones said. “We also will have roving deputy poll workers who will be checking on the polling places in each wards for electioneering or any problems or concerns, as we do for all elections.”

Jason Kander – the current secretary of state who could become the first millennial elected to the U.S. Senate – has unveiled a new online Missouri Voter Outreach Center. It allows voters to view their candidates and measures that will appear on their ballot, find their districts and look up their polling place in one location. Visit VoterOutreach.sos.mo.gov.

One initiative on the November 8 ballot will make it more difficult to vote in Missouri if it passes. Constitutional Amendment 6 would require the state-issued photo ID to vote in future elections, which would disenfranchise what Kander estimated as 220,000 people.

“If the African-American community does not vote all the way down the ballot, we can be assured this is the last year some of us will be voting at all in Missouri,” Judy Baker said. “Vote NO on Amendment 6. Let’s keep our government and our constitutional rights intact."

Robin Smith, who hopes to succeed Kander as the state’s top election official has been working especially hard to reach black voters and to get them to vote their way down the ballot.

“The black vote is pivotal in determining who wins and loses statewide races,” Smith said. “Statistical data and modeling prove that a strong turnout by the African-American community will be the deciding factor in 2016, and that’s why Hillary Clinton, Rev. Emanuel Cleaver and my team are focusing with laser precision on turning out the vote in both the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas, of course, but also turning out the African-American vote in Columba, Springfield and even far-reaching corners like Haiti, Missouri.” 

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