The Hidden Swing Voters

07/17/2012 10:27 am ET | Updated Sep 16, 2012

This year's election could prove to be one of the most important in our nation's history and there is at least one group whose vote could determine its outcome. According to the National Urban League, one of America's oldest and most respected civil rights organizations, the African-American vote has the power to carry the presidential election for Barack Obama.

In 2008, the Obama campaign defeated John McCain predominantly on the backs of a voter base that had, up until then been virtually ignored. African-Americans turned out to vote in record numbers and dramatically altered the course of the historic election. According to a report released by the National Urban League's Policy Institute, African-Americans had the largest increase in voter turnout in history with a 16.4% growth from the 2004 presidential election, adding an additional 2.4 million African-American voters. Additionally, the report revealed that for the first time ever the voter turnout for African-Americans between the ages of 18-44 years of age was higher than that of whites in the same age group.

In contrast, if the voter turnout for African-Americans in every state falls to 60%, which was the turnout rate for the 2004 presidential election and close to the historical average, Obama could lose in North Carolina and have difficulty winning Virginia and Ohio, all three of which are swing states.

"We achieved a high-water mark in America in 2008. For the first time, African Americans were at the table with white America" because the turnout of black voters was just 1.4 points below white voters, said Chanelle Hardy, senior vice president and executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute. But, "because we achieved so much in 2008, we have to push even harder to meet those numbers.

The Urban League's report, to be released Tuesday, reveals that the African-American vote will be vital in November if Obama is to win a second term, as African-American voters tend to lean Democrat. "African-Americans hold the key to the outcome of this election," Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, stated during a conference call with media this week. The Urban League, as well as other civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the National Action Network, have been diligent in raising awareness around the topic of voter suppression, particularly in the wake of new voter ID laws that have sprung up throughout the country.

In March the Urban League released its annual State of Black America report and with it named voter suppression as the number one issue facing the African-American community this year. Laws that ban convicted felons and prison inmates from voting as well as the new voter ID laws have been known to disproportionately affect African-Americans and have been the target of protests from other civil rights groups and progressive organizations.

Recently Pennsylvania became ground zero for the voter ID debate. Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed legislation requiring photo identification be displayed before individuals can vote, a move that has threatened to disenfranchise 750,000 voters who do not currently have state issued ID.

The laws were put in place in an effort to combat voter fraud, which Republicans say is a threat to fair elections, yet in the last decade less than a dozen cases of voter fraud were reported. Corbett, who was the state's attorney general prior to taking office as governor, prosecuted approximately zero cases of voter fraud during his stint in that capacity. GOP lawmaker Mike Tarzai (R) revealed the true premise behind the voter ID laws when he made his now infamous comments.

"Voter ID which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done," Turzai said in a speech to supporters, confirming that the voter ID laws are being developed specifically to suppress the vote of anyone who is not Republican.