Black clergy make last-ditch push to mobilise voters
Published 05/11/2016 | 07:46
Black clergy are taking to the pulpits and the streets nationwide this weekend to try to energise black voters ahead of election day.
Many expect a drop in black voter participation this year, primarily because Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, is not on the ballot. His historic candidacy in 2008 and re-election in 2012 helped to fuel record black turnout.
"Voting, for us, is both a spiritual and a political issue," said Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and architect of the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina. He will be one of several clergy at the Riverside Church in New York City on Sunday evening for a revival service to encourage voting on Tuesday.
In battleground states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, other black clergy are extending "Souls to the Polls" efforts for a second weekend to get black churchgoers to cast ballots early or on election day.
Souls to the Polls events are based around black churches that encourage their parishioners to vote - although they cannot tell them who to support - and try to make it easier for elderly, busy or just reluctant voters to cast ballots.
The number of African-American voters has increased steadily: 12.9 million in 2000, 14 million in 2004, 16 million in 2008 and 17.8 million in 2012. In the last presidential election year, blacks for the first time voted at a higher rate, 66.2%, than did whites, with a rate of 64.1%, or Asian-Americans or Hispanics, with rates of about 48% each.
No one expects those numbers for blacks this time around, said Derrick McRae, pastor of The Experience Christian Centre in Orlando, Florida. "But I'm pretty confident we're going to show up."
Mr Obama will travel to Florida on Sunday to campaign for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and encourage get-out-the-vote efforts. Mrs Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump will be crisscrossing the country, too, with the Democrat in Michigan as well as Pennsylvania and Ohio and the Republican in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Get-out-the-vote efforts are under way outside the churches as well, in vote-rich places like Ohio, where Clinton appeared alongside hip-hop mogul Jay Z and other artists who she hopes can persuade black millennials to vote for her.
Florida and North Carolina are considered key states for both Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton, with the potential to push either of them toward the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
In addition to helping people vote, several black churchgoers also plan to monitor polling places to ensure potential voters are not intimidated by anyone trying to depress turnout through trickery or misinformation.
"If it's an older woman who's on a cane, if it's somebody who's thirsty, if it's someone who just needs some encouragement, we're there to do just that," said Rev Dr Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia. "And if anyone comes around to do anything that would deter from the free, fair opportunity to vote, we will shut that down."