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Fri Jul 22, 2022, 06:34 PM

Greg Olear: Stop Digital Voter Suppression


Black voters—and in particular Black women, who reliably vote in higher numbers by percentage than any other demographic—are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Consider: After losses in (very white) New Hampshire and (not quite as white, but still very white) Iowa, Joe Biden appeared headed to defeat in the 2020 primaries. Then Rep. Jim Clyburn endorsed him, and Black voters turned out in vast numbers in (much more diverse) South Carolina, propelling Biden to a decisive, no-doubt-about-it victory—and sparing the party and the world the McGovern 2.0 nightmare of Bernie Sanders, who would not even deign to join the party, at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Yes, yes, I know. You “feel the Bern.” You’re quite sure Sanders would have defeated Trump. He’s the only one with the courage to stand up for the little guy, etc. That motley army of seething ideologically pure progressives who don’t vote out of protest would have shown out and carried the day, etc. The reality is that Sanders is not terribly popular with Black voters, with women, or with centrists. In other words, the majority of the party doesn’t much like him. He couldn’t beat Hillary in 2016, he couldn’t beat Biden in 2020, and he would have been eviscerated by the ruthless rightwing media machine, what with his proud socialist views and his pro-Soviet sympathies and his history of ugly misogyny. Moscow cannily recognized this, which is why they supported his campaign.

Black voters are the backbone of the party. They are also a bellwether: if that demographic is lukewarm on you, you’re not winning a national election as a Democrat. Republicans know this, which is why they use every tool in their expansive toolbox to suppress the Black vote. Russia, which backed Trump in both 2016 and 2020, knows this, which is why it employed active measures expressly to suppress the Black vote. By 2020—after the report by Stop Online Violence Against Women (October 2018) and the Mueller Report (April 2019) and Volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report (August 2020) laid out how Russian operatives used disinformation campaigns to dissuade African-Americans from voting—the only person who seemed oblivious to the importance of the Black electorate was Tom Perez. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Perez was the head of the DNC at the time. He spent most of the election cycle playing Trilby to Bernie’s Svengali. We are lucky we survived.

The first detailed analysis of Russia’s targeting of Black voters was produced in the fall of 2018 by a research organization called Stop Online Violence Against Women (SOVAW). The group analyzed the 3,500 Facebook ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency—the rogue Russian troll outfit indicted by Robert Mueller.


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