Elijah Cummings

Contrary to the opinion of some commentators, I remain convinced that our nation’s African American voters will once again vote in record numbers during this critical election year.

We will vote, and encourage everyone we know to march with us to the polls, as if our families’ future will be dramatically affected by the outcome — because it will be.

Will our engagement in choosing the next President and Congress be dampened because President Obama will not be on the ballot?  I do not believe so, at least not in any significant way.

There is little doubt that African American civic participation was encouraged by President Obama’s historic election and re-election campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

However, as someone who was actively involved in those campaigns, the deeper motivation underlying our successful engagement was the disastrous experience of minority communities during the top-down, trickle down economic policies of the Bush Administration years.

We have not forgotten that pain, whatever some pundits would have us believe.

Moreover, I fully expect to join President Obama on the campaign trail this year, when the leading Democratic presidential candidates are competing to establish who best can build upon and expand our President’s successful initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates have been fighting about who will do the most to discard our President’s achievements in economic recovery, health care, environmental protection and foreign policy.

Clearly, the Republicans are not competing for our votes — and that is their fundamental, strategic error.

Consider these facts:

In 2012, for the first time in any presidential election, eligible African American voters voted at a higher rate (66% vs. 64%) than did our Caucasian countrymen and women.

As analysists for the widely respected Cook Political Report have concluded, African American voters accounted for President Obama’s entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

I recall these facts because, this year, the balance of political forces in our country again makes the active and enthusiastic engagement of Americans of Color a decisive factor in the Presidential Election.

Notwithstanding the efforts to suppress our votes by Republican legislators, Republicans in the Congress and a slim 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court, I am convinced that the active participation by Americans of Color in voter registration drives, voter-turnout campaigns and Election Day mobilization will determine the direction of the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States for years to come.

I should also note that the seven states in which African American voters were essential to President Obama’s 2012 victory are the same states (along with Illinois, Wisconsin and North Carolina) in which we have the ability to restore the United States Senate as the truly deliberative governing body that our Constitution envisions.

Here is why, despite the nay-saying, I remain so confident.  As President Clinton was always fond of reminding us, it’s all about the math.

The Pew Research Center concluded last month that the American electorate this year will be our nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse ever.  Nearly one-in-three eligible voters on Election Day (31 percent) will be African American, Hispanic American, Asian American or another ethnic minority.

There are nearly 11 million more eligible voters this year than there were at the time of President Obama’s 2012 reelection — and more than two-thirds of this growth in the American electorate (7.5 million) has come from racial and ethnic minorities.

Understanding these facts is important — especially so because of the active efforts to make us doubt the candidates who have our best interests at heart and doubt our own ability to elect the government we need and deserve.

We must have confidence in our own competence to build upon President Obama’s legacy and truly reform the government of our country.  Our chant has always been “Yes, we can.”

Together, we can succeed in this election year, but only if we all work together for the positive changes that our nation needs — and if we live up to the determination and courage of an elderly woman whom I met at our polling place in 2012.

The lady (close to 90 years of age, barely able to walk, and knowing that she may have been voting for the last time in her life) was brimming with pride.

Yet, as I listened to her thoughts, I knew that she would have faced great difficulties voting in states that suppressed her vote.

Like so many of our Senior Citizens, this wonderful woman must have felt that she had been running in a marathon — and now, she needed to pass on the baton to the next generation.

We are that generation — the new majority of Black and White, Brown and Yellow Americans — and what that wonderful, courageous and principled woman would tell us this Election Year is this:

“Don’t drop the baton.”

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.