alcalloway.jpgAgain, the great push is on to register black people to vote. The window of opportunity to register closes Oct. 6 for this all-important presidential election, which takes place the first Tuesday in November. But there is a snag in the expected outcome of this great push that keeps getting ignored.

Unless voter education complements voter registration, voter turnout will lag. And voter turnout, in the final analysis, can only be measured by the actual number of properly executed votes, not merely by the number of people who show up at the polls to vote.

Why? Because many problems occur at polling places due to lack of knowledge, which sometimes includes misinformation.

Broward County, Florida poll workers say that many black people show up to vote without Florida identification. Some say they will return with proper documentation. But for too many, once they leave, that’s it! Some voters have a voter registration card with a new address on it and a driver’s license with an old address. The voter registration ledger shows yet another address.

Lines move slowly due to these and other glitches, and votes are lost because people get frustrated and leave, or for any number of reasons cannot give the process any more time. Add to this that there are poll workers who talk loud and in scolding tones, embarrassing voters with problems.

Many people leave without voting via “provisional ballot,” which consists of an affidavit in which a person swears they are who they say they are, and that their address is proper. Once a person fills this out, he or she is allowed to vote.

Without voter education, people go to the wrong polling places, vote for more than one person for a particular office (or for many offices and/or categories) on the ballot, or don’t bother to vote because they don’t read well and are fearful. Poll workers from clerks to deputies need to be expertly trained both in specific job functions and in customer service – understanding that the voting public is their customer.

One clerk told me that for the recent Aug. 26 election in Broward County, her polling place was undermanned because four of her workers did not show up, and the
Broward Sheriff’s Office did not send a deputy. In addition, a couple of her very elderly “workers” mostly sat out of the way and nodded the day away. Ten percent of the votes tallied at her polling place were via provisional ballot.   

Black turnout is also adversely affected by ex-felons who cannot vote. According to David Bositis, a political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, disenfranchisement of felons “leaves one in seven black men voteless.”

Attorney Mark Schlakman of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights wrote an op-ed  on restoring ex-felons’ rights in the Sept. 4, 2008 Miami Herald.

In admonishing Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida State Clemency Board, Schlakman wrote: “. . . more than 300,000 ex-offenders who completed their sentences are conceivably living in Florida without civil rights. An independent study indicates that the number is much higher.”

Most of these ex-offenders are of African descent and would likely vote for Barack Obama and the Democratic ticket.  

In 2004, due mostly to the NAACP statewide, get-out-the-vote campaign, more blacks in Florida voted than ever before.

But here’s what happened.

As first time voters, many failed to vote properly. The Florida State NAACP, led by a former educator with years as a school board administrator, failed to understand the need for a voter education program. As a result, a high number of black votes were properly discounted. The propaganda put forth as a cover-up blamed Republican operatives for the debacle.

Unless and until the syndrome of mediocrity that permeates black affairs is arrested and replaced, there is scant hope for a future of great positive social change.

If Obama loses by the predicted small margin, it will be because the black community did not come together – churches, fraternities and sororities, secret orders, civil rights groups and other community-based organizations – to plan, design and implement finely honed voter registration/voter education programs, as organizer, senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama teaches, “from the bottom up.”