As part of his victory tour after the 2016 election, Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that Black Americans who did not vote were “almost as good” as those who voted for him. A month later on Martin Luther King Day, he told a summit of civil-rights leaders, including Martin Luther King III, that it “was great” that “many Blacks” didn’t vote for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
While the prospect of diminished African-American voter turnout was all “good” and “great” for Trump in 2016, that doesn’t appear to be enough for his party in 2020. Republicans have been busy since Election Day trying to throw out votes from Black-majority cities in states that flipped to Joe Biden. The past two days in Wisconsin and Michigan have seen two Republican efforts to dismiss or question the vote total in Milwaukee and Detroit, while trusting the vote count in rural, majority-white counties in both states.
It began on Tuesday night in Wayne County, Michigan, where the two Republican members of the four-person board of canvassers voted not to certify the election results of Detroit and its surrounding areas. Republican Monica Palmer said that the board did not have “complete and accurate information” on books used to record which ballots belonged to which precincts. The incompleteness Palmer described involved discrepancies in around 387 ballots in Detroit, a city that cast over 250,000 votes in the election. Palmer’s motivations became a little clearer, when she made a motion to certify the results in the county’s majority-white suburbs and “communities other than the city of Detroit,” which is almost 78.6 percent Black. (The other Republican board member has an uglier, older history of prejudiced ideas: posting racist memes of Obama.)
On Wednesday, it was the Trump campaign itself in Wisconsin that led the charge to disenfranchise Black voters. Instead of shelling out the estimated $7.9 million it would have cost to do a statewide recount, the campaign filed a $3 million petition to recount votes only in Milwaukee and Dane counties — home to the majority of the state’s Black population and which voted in favor of Biden by 53 points and 40 points, respectively.
These efforts to change the vote in the rebuilt blue-wall states are extremely unlikely to succeed. In Michigan, the Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers agreed to certify the results after residents berated them over Zoom. One participant in the public call for comments that led to the reversal was Reverend Wendell Anthony, the head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, who called the pair a “disgrace.” In Wisconsin, the math just isn’t friendly to the Trump campaign: According to BuzzFeed News, recounts typically overturn just .001 percent of ballots cast. In the two counties where Trump paid for a second look, there was a total of 803,680 votes cast, meaning the campaign could reasonably only hope for a swing of 804 votes in a state where he lost by over 20,000.
But these efforts have succeeded in once again revealing the GOP’s attitude toward Black voters — that their right to ballot access is less secure than that of their white neighbors. This is hardly a new message from the party that, this year, opposed the reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act, caused Black voters in Georgia to wait in line for up to ten hours to vote, and restricted polling access in Texas for millions of Black and Latino voters. Nor is it a surprising action from a party that abandoned a 2020 platform, instead choosing to “enthusiastically support” a candidate who thought racism was his best chance at reelection.