Back in 2014, when the last Democratic primary was held in South Carolina, 67 percent of eligible voters were black. In general, black voters also have a higher turnout rate in the Palmetto State than the national and state average, which is partially attributed to the fact that South Carolina’s voter laws are less strict than other states’. That’s why Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are banking on the support of those voters during today’s primary.
And as it turns out, those voters have already turned out in waves. The South Carolina State Election Commission has reported that 71 percent of the state’s early voters were black.
In the days leading up to the primary, both candidates have touted endorsements designed to woo black voters.
Clinton took to the campaign trail with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton, and Eric Garner. Some voters who remember Clinton’s support of an unjust tough on crime bill in 1994, which led to the over-incarceration of African Americans, believe she has demonstrated a commitment to criminal justice reform.
Sanders, in turn, rallied with Garner’s daughter, Erica, actor Danny Glover, and former NAACP President Ben Jealous. His history of supporting civil rights has also appealed to young black voters.
South Carolina passed a voter ID law in 2011 that is likely to disenfranchise many black voters. But those same voters — and the candidates trying to woo them — have also benefited from the state’s decision not to pursue more aggressive forms of voter suppression that are popular in other states.
Voter turnout in earlier primaries this year has been hit hard by proof of citizenship requirements, limited voting and registration hours, and registration hurdles.
Thanks to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that gutted a key aspect of the Voting Right Act, states across the country can legally pass restrictive voting laws that intentionally target minorities. For instance, some states have specifically stripped away early voting options, which hits black voters particularly hard. African Americans are less likely to have transportation and the job flexibility to cast their votes on primary days.