Michelle Obama this week urged black voters to go to the polls.
“This is such an important issue, especially this year because this may be the most important election of our lifetime,” she said during a conference call with black-owned media on Tuesday, Oct. 14.
“It is critical that we all have our voices heard, which means being educated on how to cast your ballot on Election Day.”
In Florida, more than 600,000 African Americans who were eligible to vote in 2004 did not show up to the polls, helping clear the way for President George W. Bush’s re-election.
“Bush’s margin of victory in Florida was 380,000 votes. The African-American vote could have made the difference here [in Florida] four years ago,” she said.
Obama, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, said the same issue existed “in state after state, all over the country. The African-American voters were absent, and it was reflected in the final tally.’’
But, she said, “With this election, we have a rare chance to change that trend, so it’s important that we make people understand just how easy it is to vote.”
Early voting begins in every county in the state of Florida on Monday, Oct. 20.
In most counties, it ends on Nov. 1, but in some, it lasts until Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 4.
“We hope the lines on Election Day are long,” Obama said, “but some may choose to skip that and vote early. On Election Day, we’d like to see people helping others to get to the polls.”
Recalling the Bush-Gore election of 2000, many Floridians cling to an understandably paranoid fear of election fraud. President Bush narrowly won the Nov. 7, 2000 election with 271 electoral votes to Al Gore’s 266.
The election was laced with controversy over the rightful winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes, and thus the presidency. Nevertheless, a recount revealed that Gore, the losing candidate, received 543,816 more popular votes than Bush, the winner.
In 2004, Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted, according to the Obama presidential campaign. Those votes would have been enough to put John Kerry into the White House.
These facts have discouraged many from voting, fearing that their ballots will remain uncounted.
To counter those fears, the Obama campaign has launched a major voter education effort in the state of Florida.
“We want to make sure all voters know exactly what to do on Election Day,” Obama said.
For every early vote that is cast in the state of Florida, the voter can go online and receive confirmation that his or her vote has in fact been registered, said U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, the House majority whip, during the conference call with Obama.
Clyburn also said he believes that “what happens between now and election morning will determine the outcome of the election. The effort that we put forth will determine the success or failure.”
Floridians know more than anyone else just how important it is that every voter knows how to vote, Obama said, adding, “and be confident that their vote will be counted.”
The Obama campaign will have thousands of people stationed at polling places during early voting and on Election Day to answer questions that voters have right then and there, Obama said.
“We owe it to ourselves and our country to have our voices heard on Election Day. It’s simple; we need to make it happen,” she said.
Several rumors discouraging voters have been spread throughout the communities stirring fear, Jared Quinent, deputy voter protection director of the Florida Campaign for Change, said during the conference call.
“And the biggest one is the no match, no vote law,” Quinent said, explaining that the law has more to do with “verification of your voter’s registration than it does with voting.”
Any voter who goes to the poll is required to bring a photo ID with them, with signature, Quinent said. The address on that ID does not have to match the address on the voter registration form.
“The only thing that a poll worker looks for when checking the photo ID is the photo, so that they look like the person they say they are, and the signature, which must match the signature on the voter’s registration form,” he said. “That the address on the driver’s license needs to match that of the voter’s registration card, is a rumor.”
Also, in Florida, Quinent said, a voter can “vote wearing anything. This includes T-shirts, hats and buttons.”
The law that prohibits people from campaigning within 100 feet of the polling place applies only to campaigners.
If there are any problems or rumors one feels would keep them from voting, they need to be addressed before Nov. 4, Quinent said.
“No matter which candidate folks support, we are all in this together,” Michelle Obama said. “We all must deal with the consequences of this election for years to come, no matter who we support. We need to reverse the trends of past elections when millions of Americans stayed home on Election Day and missed their chance to shape history. This is especially true for African Americans.”
For information on early voting, poll locations and other voter information: www.voteforchange.com
To dispel any rumors about voting: FL.barackobama.com
For questions, reporting trouble at polling places, verify your status as a voter or volunteering: 877-2FL-OBAMA
Photo: Michelle Obama