In summary

Black people need to stop freely giving our votes away to Democrats without checking their records to see whether they support what is important to us.

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By Jacquelyn Johnson, Special to CalMatters

Jacquelyn Johnson is a writer, speaker and social and civil rights activist who lives in Sacramento,

The recall election for governor of California is set for Sept. 14, and as a Black person, I want to make sure I vote responsibly. The question that arises for me is whether to vote Democrat, Republican or simply vote for the best candidate. My next question is: Why do we Black people always vote for Democratic candidates?

A 2020 article by the Public Policy Institute of California — based on data gathered under Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom — shows that racial disparities between Black people and white people are widespread in the state. Here are some issues we should consider when we vote:

Income and wealth: Access to jobs is lower for Black people. Black families in California are most likely to find themselves at the bottom of the income distribution.

Education: As early as the fourth grade, twice as many white children as Black children have met English standards (64% versus 32%) and more than twice as many white children as Black children have met math standards (60% versus 25%).

Health: Black people are much more likely to die from COVID-19, with a death rate about twice that of whites, according to the California Department of Public Health. Factors that contribute to this disparity include less access to health care and insurance, and increased exposure to the virus on the job and in housing.

Criminal justice: Black people are 6% of California’s population, yet they are the targets of nearly 15% of traffic stops and nearly 16% of all arrests; 26% are in California’s probation system, 25% are in jail and 29% are in prison.

We protested vociferously over the summer for racial justice in policing, but on Sept. 30, Newsom vetoed and the Democratic majority failed to support five justice-focused bills. These measures would have required the state to track police officer firings and investigate accused officers who resign, and required prosecutors to maintain lists of corrupt or compromised officers. They would have created a statewide program establishing social workers, rather than cops, to be the first responders to nonviolent emergencies. 

When it comes down to it, benefits we receive — or don’t receive — from Republicans or Democrats are not that different, which is why Black people need to change the way we vote. 

Quite a few of us believe voting is simply a waste of time. But the fact is, we are the swing population. This means that our vote could reasonably be won by either the Democratic or Republican candidates. That is a powerful position. Why? Because they all need our vote to get elected. Currently, both parties take for granted that we will vote for Democratic candidates, so neither feels the need to pursue us. We give our power away freely to Democrats but — as the data above show — we’ve received little or nothing for our loyalty.

So yes, we need to vote, but only for the best candidate. 

Here are guidelines that can help us vote more confidently in the coming election:

1. Be sure you are registered to vote.

2. Take time to learn about the candidates and issues on the ballot, and use reliable sources — don’t rely on social media. Helpful sources include Ballotpedia, Vote411, BallotReady, PolitiFact and OpenSecrets.

3. Create a list of values and know what’s important to you.

4. Consider requesting an absentee ballot so you can vote from the comfort of your home.

We need to vote. And we need to vote for the candidate who can best serve us and ensure that our needs are met. We need to stop freely giving our votes away to Democrats without checking their records to see whether they support what is important to us. We need to recognize that our vote has worth and is powerful.

We are the swing population. Let’s not forget that.

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