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The problem(s) with McConnell's line on African-American voting rates

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell argued, "African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans." Oh my.

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As Republicans successfully blocked Democratic voting rights legislation again last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fielded a few reporters' questions. One asked, "What's your message for voters of color who are concerned that without the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, they're not going to be able to vote in the midterms?"

The Kentucky Republican, who's spent months pretending his party hasn't imposed new voting restrictions, offered a response that generated a lot of attention for a reason:

"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."

At face value, the comments were controversial for an obvious reason: The Senate GOP leader seemed to suggest that he sees a distinction between Americans and African Americans. It was reminiscent of the time National Review published an item on then-President Barack Obama's popularity in 2009, arguing that his "sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are."

But if we're generous and give McConnell the benefit of the doubt, it's likely that he meant Black voters participate in elections at roughly the same rate as American averages overall.

The trouble is, that's not quite right, either. As a Washington Post analysis explained:

With the exception of 2008 and 2012, Black turnout and Hispanic turnout have consistently been below White turnout. Saying that Black turnout aligns with the national level ignores that disparity. It's like saying that Amy earns the average income on her team, since she makes $50,000 a year, Beth and Claire make $20,000, and Danielle makes $110,000. See? Everything's fair.

Complicating matters is the Republican's retrospective perspective in self-defeating ways. Indeed, after making his controversial comments, McConnell added, "A recent survey, 94 percent of Americans thought it was easier to vote. This is not a problem. Turnout is up, biggest turnout since 1900. It's simply — they're being sold a bill of goods."

The poll he referenced exists: The Pew Research Center really did find that 94 percent of American voters described voting as easy in the 2020 cycle.

But the last four words of the last sentence are the ones that matter most. As we recently discussed, the Pew poll was conducted in November 2020. In the months that followed, Republican policymakers, fueled by Donald Trump's Big Lie, approved 33 laws in 19 states that make it harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy. And as dramatic as these efforts were in 2021, there's already evidence the GOP's anti-voting crusade will continue in 2022.

McConnell effectively argued last night that voter participation rates in 2020 show that there's no real problem in need of a solution. Of course, if the voting laws and elections procedures that existed in November 2020 were left intact — procedures that made it easier for Americans to cast ballots during a pandemic — Democrats and other democracy advocates wouldn't be quite so desperate to pass legislation such as the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

And therein lies the point: Those voting laws and elections procedures are no longer intact.

To hear McConnell tell it, there's ample proof that voters are satisfied with the status quo — which would be a persuasive argument if the status quo from 14 months ago were still in place. But it's not. That's the point. That status quo was replaced by new voting restrictions in 19 states — and counting.

The Republican senator is proving the wrong point: McConnell defended an election landscape that no longer exists by pointing to poll results measuring support for laws that members of his party deliberately targeted.