CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Black voters historically make up a huge voting bloc for the Democratic Party, and the Biden campaign is working to further motivate the key demographic even as it limits in-person events due to the coronavirus pandemic
With voting underway in North Carolina, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, along with the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, hosted a virtual rally focused on the state Friday night. The event commemorated Friday's inaugural National Black Voter Day, a day created by the National Urban League, BET, and many civil rights organizations including the NAACP and the Black Voters Matter Fund.
During the virtual event, Harris touched on topics sensitive to Black communities such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities.
"We are in the midst of an economic crisis people are likening to the Great Depression, and we are in the midst of a long overdue and a continual fight for a reckoning on race and justice in America," Harris said.
"Our work also means ensuring that we reform our criminal justice system. We demand that police departments be reviewed and monitored for how they are engaged in practices. Joe and I will outlaw chokeholds and carotid holds. George Floyd would be alive today if those were banned."
Harris went on to detail changes she and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden plan for the criminal justice system including creating a national standard for use of force, eliminating the death penalty, getting rid of mandatory minimum sentencing and ending cash bail - all of which disproportionately affects Black Americans. Harris also promised under a Biden-Harris administration, marijuana would be decriminalized and they would automatically expunge all marijuana convictions.
The main focus of Friday's virtual event was to increase potential Black voters' sense of urgency regarding voter registration and mail-in voting. Black voters make up 21% of all registered voters in North Carolina, according to the State Board of Elections. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence won the state and its 15 electoral votes in their 2016 Electoral College victory and will likely need to do the same to win reelection. Polling shows the state is a virtual tie at this point.
Black voters' participation fell from a record-high of 66.6% in 2012 to 59.6% in the 2016 election. The panelists acknowledged the Obama-era turnout as unique, but U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson said Black voters understand the high stakes of the November election.
"We cannot take anything for granted - every single vote matters," Butterfield said. "There has been a long history of voter suppression here in North Carolina. Some very powerful forces are at play to diminish our vote. That's why we have to have a large turnout."
Butterfield and the panelists spoke about the stakes of the election just a few hours before the announcement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.