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"Organized efforts boosted black voter turnout, protected voters and reduced drama at the polls"
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Remaining faithful to the old-school mantra “organize, organize, organize” combined with the use of new-school technologies resulted in a major coup on Election Day - a record black voter turnout and reduced drama at the polls, say coordinators of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s (NCBCP) nonpartisan Unity ’08 Voter Empowerment Campaign.
Working in 12 states, Unity ’08 Coordinators in 12 states spent the past 18 months registering new voters, educating those voters on the voting process, providing citizens with literature outlining their rights at the polls, and urging the Black community to VOTE FIRST. During the final push to register voters the National Coalition registered 60,000 new voters in 60 days. Fifteen percent of those registrations were completed online.
“We did the traditional outreach at events and beauty salons, but we also used new technology like GIS-based data mapping to micro-target voters,” says Melanie L. Campbell executive director and CEO, NCBCP. “Further, we used email and text messaging to contact voters and make sure they voted. We will continue to contact them in the near future to make sure they stay engaged in the political process.”
“We invited the people we registered to forums and town hall meetings to make sure they understood the issues and their rights at the polls,” said Helen Butler, Georgia Unity ’08 state director. “In Georgia we shifted to get-out-the-vote mode in September. We contacted the people we registered urging them to “VOTE FIRST” and offering rides to the polls.”
The National Coalition credits their VOTE FIRST Campaign and other early vote/absentee ballot initiatives with reducing the problems at the polls on Election Day. Early voting was a hit in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Georgia. In Georgia alone, reports state that nearly 600,000 black voters in Georgia cast ballots early.
According to Pierrette M. Talley, Ohio Unity ’08 director, “Ohio is known for having problems at the polls on Election Day. We ran an extremely focus and organized campaign here in Ohio enabling us to make sure the new voters we registered showed up at the polls and knew what to do, which resulted in fewer problems.”
Salandra Hanna, Florida Unity ’08 director adds, “Florida had extremely long lines from the first day of early voting. Our early GOTV efforts resulted in thousands of early votes and clearly reduced gridlock on November 4th.”
The voters touched by the Unity ’08 Campaign were also prepared says Cynthia Downs Taylor, Virginia Unity ’08 state director. Taylor forged a relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Virginia to implement "Black Voter Empowerment Sundays," which provided voting information to over 1100 African American churches.
The youth initiative of the NCBCP, Black Youth Vote, traveled to college campuses across the country hosting a Justice Speak Out Tour featuring BET’s Jeff Johnson. Black Youth Vote! also partnered with rapper Bow Wow’s Walk Across America.
“Bow Wow’s 15 city tour came right at the last days of voter registration and the start of early voting in some states. We were able to register new voters and actually walked some of them to their polling place,” says William Kellibrew IV, Black Youth Vote national coordinator.
Unity ’08 was also part of the National Urban League’s “Vote to Empower” bus tour through Virginia the week before Election Day. Cast members of HBO’s “The Wire,” author and activist, Kevin Powell, and Marc Morial were among those touring Virginia visiting churches, college campuses, and canvassing low income neighborhoods urging people to get out to vote.
Launching in Alexandria, Virginia, with a lively event held at Bethlehem Baptist Church, the tour motivated Alexandria, VA residents to get out and vote early, said Lavern J. Chatman, director of Northern Virginia Unity ’08 Coalition.
“On the Sunday before Election Day when asked who had already voted, over 90 percent of the congregation raised their hand. Our Vote First campaign was a tremendous success,” adds Chatman.
On Election Day the National Coalition set up its Unity ’08 National Command Center at the historic headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women A. Philip Randolph Institute, Black Leadership Forum, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, The Peoples’ Agenda and TransAfrica Forum. The group held scheduled conference calls to monitor problems and turnout at the polls. A partnership with Blackplanet.com and TVOneonline.com enabled the NCBCP to upload audio and video reports from the states while bloggers Faye Anderson and Illai Kenney kept the millions of blackplanet.com members updated on what was going on in the field.
Kenney, who was answering questions in the Blackplanet.com chat room, said she was able to answer several questions from young people who wanted to know what type of identification they needed to vote and others who did not know where to go vote.
The NCBCP’s voter information hotline 866 MYVOTE 1 provided polling place information and voter registration and protection assistance to over 314,000 callers in 2008. The hotline partners included InfoVoter Technologies, NAACP Voter Fund, Tom Joyner Morning Show, AURN and others.
The goal of the NCBCP Unity ’08 Campaign, a non-partisan national and state-based coalition, was to increase black voter turnout and make sure each vote was counted on Election Day.
“Combining old-school civic engagement tactics with new school technology we surpassed our goals,” says Campbell. “Election 2008 will go down in history. I am proud to say that the National Coalition’s Unity ’08 Campaign paid tribute to the work of Dr. Dorothy Height, Dr. Joseph Lowery, the late Earl Shinholster, the late Rev. James Orange, and a host of others who paved the way for us. We organized, organized, organized and turned out a record number of informed voters.”