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African American Voter Registration Surges

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Sep 15, 2008

Frustration, Determination Swelling Local Rolls; 8 Million Still Unregistered.

Call it Obama fever, frustration over joblessness and a crumbling economy, or just plain fed up with the much maligned Republican-led Bush administration, Black voter registration is on fire swelling the rolls in numbers unheard of. Although Republicans are vigorously signing up white voters in the suburbs it appears the GOP is out-organized by Democrat-led drives in Black and Brown precincts in the Inland Empire and across the nation.

On a recent weekday, two dozen volunteers canvassed neighborhoods surrounding I-215 in eastern Riverside, targeting African-Americans in their teens and twenties, who tend to vote at lower rates than older voters. In San Bernardino near Cal State University student Nedra Fields and nine volunteers fanned out in 90 degree heat looking for unregistered voters.

"Are you registered to vote?" Fields asked 22-year-old unemployed machinist Percy Johnston. "Not yet." he responds, "Right now I need a job. I want somebody who will do something about the economy. Obama said he'll bring jobs to the hood but I don't trust politicians," grumbled Johnston.

Field pulls out a list of talking points: Only 36 of the 2,380 delegates seated on the Republican Convention floor were Black, the lowest number since the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies began tracking diversity at political conventions 40 year ago.' "Who are you going to trust with the Black vote? Barack Obama's roots are in Chicago's Black neighborhoods. If you don't vote - don't complain about unemployment in the hood," she said admonishingly.

"Obama's Black but that don't mean s*%t when you don't have a job," cautioned Johnston. Ten minutes later with sweat beading from his forehead Johnston reluctantly agrees to register.

Both parties have clearly turned up the heat for grassroots mobilization efforts following their back to back conventions.

According to a "Vote America" analysis, Democrat-affiliated groups "have added tens of thousands of new voters to the rolls in the swing states of Ohio and Florida, a surge that has far exceeded the efforts of Republicans in both states. In California a review of county-by-county data shows new registrations since January have tripled over the same period in 2004. In comparison new registrations have increased just 25 percent in Republican camps.

Rapidly rising registration rolls, facilitated by mountains of money and Black determination to avenge the "Great Theft of 2000", are creating a 2008 electorate more diverse and volatile than the arbiters of corporate news and polling are accustomed to measuring. Pollsters traditionally assign more weight to voters they deem "likely" to turn out on Election Day.

"Every unregistered voter represents an opportunity to change America," insists Obama volunteer Deborah Evans of Moreno Valley. Evans, a campaign worker in the 2000 and 2004 elections, points to a wiser, younger and more determined Black electorate.

"Black voters today are more knowledgeable and less likely to buy into the old party line: Black's vote Democrat'. They want to discuss the issues; jobs, the economy, healthcare. People in Black and Brown communities are hurting, they're losing their homes and retirements even churches are suffering."

"Having an African-American or woman on the ticket is not enough. People want facts. They're fed up with opinionated mainstream media rhetoric. Young voters want their vote to count for more than style, gender and promises," insists Sen. John McCain for president volunteer, Damian Davis of Yucaipa. "We have to educate, educate, educate about the issues rather than let's garner all the evidence we can for what position we like."

Despite record numbers of voters who turned out during the presidential primaries last spring, eight million African-Americans or 32 percent of eligible Black voters are still not registered to vote according to Rick Wade, African American vote director for the Obama for America presidential campaign.

During a teleconference of Black media representatives recently Wade illustrated the importance of the 50-state Black voter registration initiative.

"The stakes are extremely high. In 2004, African Americans made up approximately 11 percent of the vote nationwide. If the percentage of African-Americans was a mere two-and-a-half percent higher at 13-and-a-half percent, Democrats would currently be running for reelection in 2008," he said. For example in the state of Ohio in 2004, Democrats lost by 2% or 100,000 votes. There were 270,000 unregistered African-Americans. So the African-American vote can absolutely make a difference in this election."

"We plan to target churches, schools, and even laundry mats. Every vote counts," says David Brooks huddling with volunteers from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino Saturday.

All signs point to a much larger, far more energized African-American electorate says Melanie Campbell, executive director of the non-partisan National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

"With Obama the first Black candidate nominated to run for president and GOP VP pick, Sarah Palin in the equation, it goes without saying there's a lot at stake for all Americans and African-Americans in particularly," Wade says.

"Because of the intensity of voter registration efforts, there's a great possibility to take voter registration to a whole new level, particularly in the Black community, by intensifying voter education and focusing on issues," he said.

"The potential is that you will create a whole new expanded electorate. It's something that we've been trying to have happen for a lot of years," Campbell says.

But the Democrats are not alone in going after the Black vote. Republicans, who barely get a tenth of the Black vote in presidential elections, say they are not giving up.

"Republicans are working to turn out voters of all races to support Sen. John McCain and all of our GOP candidates," says Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Conner. "We're focusing on using a strong grassroots program that relies on neighbor to neighbor interactions. Our Party's nominee has participated in important African-American national events such as the NAACP conference and the National Urban League Convention."

The intensity of the current election and get-out-to-vote efforts have caught fire from coast to coast and doesn't begin and end with the presidential election.

In California voters will be asked in November to decide on a "dizzying" palate of candidates and state and local issues ranging from budget reform to banning the use of plastic grocery bags.

Related Articles:

Eight Million Blacks Still Not Registered To Vote

DNC: Courting the Latino Vote

America Not Prepared for Big Turnout Nov. 4 says New Report

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