By Wesley Martin
“I think the Democratic Party has done a very poor job in trying to get African Americans to vote,” said Robert Hill, general manager and radio personality for WRNE 980 AM. “They’re relying on the communities themselves to [register voters] and the communities really don’t have an orchestrated, premeditated way of getting people to register other than the fact of showing up with voter registration forms.”
Last Saturday, Movement for Change, a local civil rights initiative, held a “Rally for Votes” at its headquarters (1603 MLK Drive).
“It was a multi-focused event to acquaint the community with the candidates who are running for the various offices,” said Hill, who hosted the event, “along with an informational section which consisted of acquainting the audience with the various amendments on the ballot as presented by the American Civil Liberties Union.”
The event drew a crowd just under 100 people. Hill said there seems to be some “voter apathy” this election.
“Whether we want to believe it or not there is some voter apathy out there as it relates to the African American population,” Hill said. “The unemployment rate of African Americans is in the double digits. For African American males between the ages of 18 – 44, unemployment is around 33 percent. Those are voting people.”
According to the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections, as of August 2008 there were a total of 180,521 registered voters in the county. As of August 31 of this year, there are a total of 189,991 registered voters in the county. The Supervisor of Elections did not specify the race of registered voters in the county.
Jerry McIntosh, second vice president and public relations liaison for Movement for Change, said registration amongst blacks and Latinos is low in comparison to 2008.
“We feel that the governor and his legislators haven’t been friendly to the voting process,” McIntosh continued, “especially the civil rights part of the Voting Rights Act. There are those nation-wide who are trying to turn back the clock on voting in this country and we have to stand up and make sure that we get the vote out.”
“I think these draconian laws that have been put into place made [volunteers] afraid to go out and register people,” McIntosh continued. “Even the League of Women Voters, who have been a staple in getting people registered to vote, backed off because they felt they could not afford to be charged all that money.”
A Daytona Beach area teacher was fined $1000 late last year for registering students in her classes to vote. Many interpreted this as voter suppression.
Hill of WRNE believes without grassroots efforts, like going into the communities and churches, there will likely be a low minority turnout come November.
“We won’t get them,” Hill said.