Black Americans surge to the polls for what many say is the most important election of their lives

ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10/CNN) — Dave Richards arrived at his polling place in Cobb County before dawn, carrying a blue lawn chair and a giant bottle of water.

It was about 6 a.m. on October 12 — the first day of early voting in Georgia — and the business consultant was ready for a long wait in Smyrna. After three hours in line, Richards, 51, voted in what he called the most crucial election of his lifetime.

“This election is more important than the 2008 one for Barack Obama. That 2008 one was for change and making history. This election is for saving the US,” Richards said, citing concerns about racial justice and suppression of Black voters. “The racial divide that is going on, we need someone who is going to be a leader for everyone, not just their base.”

Across the country, Black voters are turning out in huge numbers. The stakes this year are especially high, they say, and nothing less than their health and safety is on the ballot.

In interviews with CNN, they said they’re worried about racial injustice and police brutality, they feel devalued by a President who has hesitated to condemn White supremacy and they fear losing health benefits if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act.

Many said this feels like the most important election of their lifetimes.

“The pandemic did not scare me,” Richards said. “The way that 45 (Trump) was talking about mail-in voting and lying about it, I wanted to do it (vote) in person.”

Many Black voters say they don’t trust Trump

So far this fall, African American voters are rushing to the polls at much higher rates than they did four years ago, when Hillary Clinton was on the ballot.

By Tuesday, more than 601,000 Black Americans had voted early in Georgia compared with about 286,240 two weeks before the 2016 election. In Maryland, about 192,775 had voted compared with 18,430. And California had over 303,145 — up from more than 106,360 two weeks before the election four years ago. That’s according to Catalist, a data company that provides analytics to Democrats, academics and progressive advocacy organizations.

Keith Green, 65, went to the polls last week in Overland Park, Kansas, to vote in person — for several reasons.

“We have a racist President who lies too much,” he said. “He keeps on saying he doesn’t trust the Democrats. Well after everything that has gone on with the ballots, I don’t trust the Republicans.”

Trump has repeatedly said he’s done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. As evidence, he has cited low unemployment among African Americans, criminal justice reforms and increased federal funding for historically Black colleges and universities.

Some prominent Black Republicans, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Jay Cameron, have sung his praises.

But most Black people aren’t convinced. Gallup polling over the summer found that 87% of Black Americans disapproved of his job as President.

Other concerns include health care and the makeup of the courts

Wilburn Wilkins, 61, woke up early on October 7, put on two masks and headed to a voting center in Joliet, Illinois, with his wife. Although the retiree has pre-existing conditions, he wanted to vote in person.

“We have a President who is totally tearing apart our whole democratic Constitution,” Wilkins told CNN. “Many people are dying because he is ignoring the COVID pandemic, ignoring the fact that people are unemployed, need financial resources. We need a change.”

Like Green, he believes the White House’s decisions have undermined Black people and other minorities.

“The nomination of a conservative to the Supreme Court, stacking of lower courts in order to have cronies to carry out conservative ideas, most likely will affect Black and Brown people,” Wilkins said. “They’ll affect things such as civil rights, Obamacare — all of these things have the potential to negatively impact minorities. ”

There’s a lot at stake in this election, said playwright and composer Nolan Williams Jr., 51, who lives in Washington, DC, and plans to vote in person on Election Day.

In Los Angeles, business manager and travel blogger Nancy Gakere, 47, woke up early one day this month to drop off her ballot. She also signed up for a tracking service to ensure her vote is counted.

“I wanted to make sure I personally deliver my vote,” she said. “This election is so important to Black people because of current events like the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and) the way the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected Black people,” she said. “This has exposed the long-standing institutional racism and racial inequalities that exist in America.”

But for Gakere, the most important issue is preserving health care under the Affordable Care Act.

“We have family members with pre-existing conditions, and we feel that it’s at risk of being overturned,” she said.

With Election Day on the horizon, Wilkins has a message for Black voters.

“Many people have died for us to have that right to vote. We cannot take it for granted. This is a privilege that was not offered to our ancestors,” the Illinois man said. “They’re trying to stop us from voting right now by gerrymandering, intimidation, voter suppression in plain sight — all things that have been done in the past to our ancestors. That tells you how important it is for us to vote.”

©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to the story.

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