Fact check: McConnell makes racist false claim that voter suppression doesn't exist

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to repeat false information about racial voting disparities.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a false — and racist — claim Wednesday to dishonestly suggest that there is no racial gap between Black and white Americans in voting. He made the comment to try to justify why he and every one of his GOP colleagues opted to again block voting rights protections.

At a press conference, McConnell (R-KY) was asked, "What's your message to voters of color who are concerned that without the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, they're not gonna be able to vote in the midterm?"

He answered, "Well, the concern is misplaced because, if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

McConnell's comment, while suggesting that he does not consider Black voters Americans, is also demonstrably false.

According to analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, in 2020 about 71% of registered non-Hispanic white voters turned out to vote, but just 58% of nonwhite registered voters did. Turnout of Black registered voters was 63%.

This is not the first time McConnell has tried to gaslight the American people and suggest that there is no voter suppression going on at all.

"It appears as if the majority leader [Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)] is hellbent to try to break the Senate," he said at a Jan. 4 press conference. "His argument is that somehow state legislatures across the country are busily at work trying to make it more difficult for people to vote. Of course, that's not happening anywhere in America."

Sean Morales-Doyle, who leads the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center, told the American Independent Foundation last week that comments like McConnell's are wrong.

"I think this statement, like others I've seen, points to the fact that there was high turnout in 2020 and somehow that means there's not a problem with voter suppression or race discrimination in voting," Morales-Doyle said. "National turnout figures alone don't tell the whole story here. There are historic gaps between white and nonwhite voters, and those gaps persist."

In recent years, courts have found deliberate attempts to suppress turnout by and dilute the electoral power of Black citizens.

Just four months ago, a panel of judges in North Carolina struck down the state's strict photo identification law, holding that it was "motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters." The state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the question.

Last August, historian and George Washington University Law School lecturer James Peyton McCrary told the House Judiciary Committee that he had documented more than 200 voting rights violations at the state and local level over the prior 25 years.

Black voters are also disproportionately disenfranchised by laws that keep those who were incarcerated on felony convictions off the voter rolls, even after they complete their sentences. A 2018 analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice found that about one out of every 13 Black Americans did not have voting rights due to previous convictions — a rate four times as high as that of other Americans.

Morales-Doyle also pointed out that, even if McConnell and others had been correct about 2020 Black voter turnout, their argument ignores what happened in 2021.

"The response in many states to high turnout in 2020 was to pass laws making it harder to vote," he observed. "One out of every three laws restricting access to voting since 2011 passed in 2021."

He noted that 19 states passed a total of at least 34 new laws last year that will make it harder for Americans to vote from now on.

Of those states, 17 have a Republican majority in their legislature, a GOP governor, or both.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.