Claim: The North Carolina Republican Party sent out a press release boasting about how its efforts drove down African-American turnout in the 2016 US presidential election.
The North Carolina Republican Party used dubious voting laws to depress African American turnout in early voting, and sent an excited email when early voting numbers were down. However, the email did not explicitly connect the legislative action with the depressed turnout, and in fact credited a difference in GOTV efforts between the campaigns.
The claim that the North Carolina GOP boasted about voter suppression appears in The New Yorker, December 12, 2016, in an article by Jeffrey Toobin, The Real Voting Scandal of 2016. Other outlets have covered it as well: Mother Jones called it bragging, Salon used the word celebrating.
Until recently, North Carolina had to seek federal preclearance in order to make changes to voting laws and practices. This remedy was authorized under section 4b of the Voting Rights Act. In 2013, Shelby vs Holder ruled that section of the Voting Rights act unconstitutional.
North Carolina proceeded to pass tough voter registration rules. House Bill 589 “started out in early 2013 as a simple voter ID bill,” wrote NC Policy Watch in July 2015, “then grew quickly later that summer into a 50-page comprehensive package of provisions scaling back previous measures designed to expand voting opportunities.”
Multiple lawsuits ensued. Of particular worry to voting rights advocates was the curtailing of early voting by the bill. The African-American community makes disproportionate use of early voting and the actions of legislators targeted early voting in the way most likely to suppress the African-American vote. The University of Kentucky's Election Law Society explains how precisely this was targeted:
In addition, data shows that African Americans disproportionally used early voting, especially the first 7 of the 17 days of early voting that existed pre-HB 589. The General Assembly proceeded to cut early voting to 10 days.
On November 7, the day before the election, the North Carolina Republican Party issued a press release citing statistics about lower African-American early voting relative to 2012. The controversial paragraph:
North Carolina Obama Coalition Crumbling
African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012.
Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.
As a share of Early Voters, African Americans are down 6.0%, (2012: 28.9%, 2016: 22.9%) and Caucasians are up 4.2%, (2012: 65.8%, 2016: 70.0%).
Were these laws responsible for suppressing turnout? Opinion here is mixed.The National Review cites an enthusiasm gap, noting that “In 2008 and 2012, black voters were electing (and reelecting) the first black president.” The New York Times cites reasons both political and logistical.
Was the letter boasting about the effect of the new laws, as Jeffrey Toobin's article in the New Yorker claimed? Not directly. Given the history of the laws put in place it is easy to read it that way, especially since early voting was an explicit target of HB 589.
But it could also be read as simply an early indicator that the Obama coalition was not as excited by Clinton as they were by Obama. In fact, the early part of the press release talks not about legislation, but about Get-out-the-Vote efforts:
The other factor which shows drastic change from 2012 is the significant decrease in Democrat Party performance during Early Voting. This may finally prove the myth pushed by many mainstream media outlets of the superior Clinton get out the vote operation, as measured by the number of Clinton-specific offices in comparison to Trump-specific offices. The vaulted [sic] Clinton ground game has been buried in North Carolina by the Republican effort, thus far.
The effort existed, and the email specifically referenced metrics related to the effort in a favorable light, with race specifically called out. At the same time, the letter does not explicitly connect the dampened turnout to legislative efforts, so we cannot rate this claim as wholly true.