victor_curry_3.jpgFor hundreds of black pastors in South Florida, Sunday means getting the faithful to the church. But this Saturday, it will be about getting the “Souls to the Polls.”

That is the theme of a ministerial effort led by Bishop Victor T. Curry to ensure that church members who pray on Sunday vote on Saturday.  The bishop, along with about 200 clergy and community leaders, pledged recently to turn out the vote for the Nov. 6 national election.

“We are working, bringing all of the groups together to make sure we have the right outcome,” the Rev. Joe C. Johnson told the ministers who gathered Oct. 15 at Curry’s church, New Birth Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka. “Pastors are taking the lead.”

Ministers from south Miami-Dade County to West Palm Beach packed a church meeting room to learn about voting rallies which begin at 7 a.m. Saturday at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center —Miami-Dade County Hall — in downtown Miami. The goal is to get congregations to the polls prior to Election Day, said Johnson, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hallandale.

“Something could come up on Election Day where you won’t have a chance to vote. You don’t want to take any chances,” said Johnson, who will participate in the rallies.

Besides the County Hall rally in Miami, others will take place throughout the day: the South Dade Regional Library at 10 a.m. in Cutler Bay, the Lauderhill Mall at noon and the E. Pat Larkin Community Center in Pompano Beach at 2 p.m.

Each rally is planned at one of the early-voting locations so participants can vote during the events.

“Where we rally is where we vote,” Curry said.

National civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton will be in South Florida to help lead the voting push beginning on Sunday, Curry said.

Sharpton is president of the National Action Network, a group he founded in 1991 as the modern continuation of the Civil Rights Movement launched by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Curry is the group’s Miami-Dade president.

The voter-turnout initiative is partly a response to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature which shortened early-voting hours.

Previously, voters could cast ballots early for 120 hours over 14 days, an opportunity that African Americans seized in the 2008 election.

That turnout is believed to have helped the victory of Barack Obama, who became the nation’s first African-American president. 

This year, the Legislature trimmed early voting to 96 hours over eight days, an attempt by the Republican-dominated body to diminish black turnout, Curry said.

Also under the new provision, early voting on the Sunday prior to Election Day has been eliminated.

Traditionally, this was the day when churches throughout the country would take their congregations to the polls following church services.

Curry said the black community should turn out in even greater numbers than in 2008. Instead of being sour about the changes, “we decided to galvanizer our community and take advantage of the days we do have to vote,” Curry said.

The early-voting rallies are being dubbed Operation Lemonade.

“If they want to cut the dates – fine,” Curry said. “We can’t unscramble eggs but we do have the power from the pulpit.”

Ministers say they are considering several ways to motivate their church members to vote, including having a mass voting day in church for those who are using mail-in ballots.

“I’m prepared to do whatever I have to do,” said the Rev. Paul West, pastor of New Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City.

“I’ll drive them to the polls in my vehicle,” West said following the ministers’ meetings.