Battling the Odds to Get Black Voters to the Polls

By Kathryn DeShields

Election Day is less than a month away.

Pair a pandemic that requires social distancing and constant disinfecting with Trump's claims that mail-in ballots “are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters,” and you have a perfect storm brewing around one of the most important days in U.S. politics.

“We can’t do the door-to-door organizing that we’re used to. It’s not safe with COVID-19,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund (BVMF), a power-building civic organization aimed at expanding voter engagement in predominantly Black communities. Brown said another threat to the election process this year is President Donald Trump, whose administration has engaged in “a tremendous amount of intentional confusion to make people doubt processes.” And that, she said, “makes getting people ready to vote that much more difficult.”

With door-to-door contact no longer a useful tool, the Black Voters Matter Fund launched a “WE GOT THE POWER” national bus tour campaign to reach Black voters in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. The campaign involves several large tour buses and 22 minibuses visiting 11 battleground states.

During the tour, a “Love and Power” bus rolls through town spreading its voter outreach message, as a caravan of community members trail behind in their cars to create some excitement. Local block club captains also engage with their neighborhoods to help share information about the voting process.

“We’re letting people know we're still fighting in this election cycle, and it gives us a way to connect while being socially distanced,” said Brown.

The QR codes on the Love and Power bus and caravan cars allow voters to check their voting status and register on the spot. (QR, short for quick response, is a type of barcode that can be read or scanned quickly with a cell phone.) BVMF also utilizes radio ads, digital public service announcements, text messaging and weekly training sessions on how to vote during COVID-19.

In another civic engagement program aimed at increasing Black voter turnout, the NAACP has launched a national “Black Voices Change Lives” campaign. The program recruits high-propensity Black voters to volunteer their time to encourage low-frequency Black voters to vote.

“In this time of crisis, each of us is obligated to make sure that all people in our communities vote,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “We have to call our neighbors, text our friends, email our loved ones and remind them to vote because our lives literally depend on it.” The “Black Voices Change Lives” campaign is one of many initiatives the NAACP launched this year.

In partnership with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the NAACP in September began a million-dollar radio ad campaign “While He Lied, Black People Died” to run on Black radio stations in critical swing states. Later in September, the NAACP launched its “Power of 5: Community Voter Outreach Program.” The five-day which involved handing out literature on voting in public areas, such as shopping centers, and in Black neighborhoods across 15 cities in 13 states and Washington, D.C. for five days.

However, the battle to reach Black voters isn’t just a logistical one. The fight is also against voter confusion and voter apathy, and it’s about encouraging people to act despite the hurdles. “We lean in, listen, affirm that what they are feeling matters to us, and often we are frustrated as well,” said Brown. “We ask them what they care about, instead of talking about voting. We listen first, then we show them how the thing they care about can be impacted by their vote,” she added. “We’re honest about the limitations of voting and its impact. It won’t solve all the problems, but it will absolutely have some measure of impact and influence.”

Election Day is November 3, 2020. Visit https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/ to check your state’s voter registration deadline for mail-in, in-person, and online voting.

The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

© The Crisis Magazine 

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