Local black voter turnout for 2012 followed national trends
HIGHLANDS COUNTY - In what may have been a key factor in President Obama winning re-election, the increase in black voter turnout, both nationally and in Highlands County, surpassed that of other minorities and white voters, an analysis shows. The analysis shows that if turnout patterns among black and white voters stayed the same as in 2004, challenger Mitt Romney would have erased Obama’s nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote. Moreover, the analysis indicates Romney would have won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. In Highlands County, which as a whole favored Romney, the percentage of eligible white voters who turned out increased from 70 in 2008 to 71.5 percent in 2012. The turnout for black voters for that same period increased from 64.2 percent to 68.2 percent. That increase doesn’t surprise Al Joe Hinson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP. He believes Obama motivated a lot of people to vote.“He was probably the energizer for the black vote,” Hinson said, but added he also believes Obama drew out other voters, as well. “A lot of people who turned out to vote did so for the first time in their lives.” Despite the increase, Hinson said he’s not satisfied and added the NAACP will be working in the next election, “trying to energize the entire Highlands County to vote.” Brenda Gray, a member of the Avon Park City Council and the NAACP, said she believes the turnout increased because Obama was successful in educating people about what he stands for and that more people believe he has done the best he can do, considering limitations. That filtered down to the local level, she said. Local Republican and Democrat Party officials had differing views regarding the turnout. Dave McCarthy, chairman of the Highlands County Democratic Party, said he doesn’t believe the Republican Party has policies that would motivate black voters to vote. He said Obama is trying to save Medicare and Social Security. McCarthy said that some voters were angry the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott required additional identification for voters and cut early voting hours, measures he believes were designed to suppress turnout. That made those voters more determined to vote, he added. But Kathy Rapp, chairwoman of the Highlands County Republican Party, said black voters are conservative and the Republican Party offers conservative policies such as low taxes, strong support of defense and less central government control over individuals. She said the message that the Republican Party has something to offer to black voters hasn’t gotten out to many black voters. Rapp disagreed that Republicans were trying to suppress turnout and noted that people need to show a picture identification for just about everything. The Associated Press contributed to this story.