Tuesday, March 18, 2003

NAACP aims to get blacks to polls

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati branch of the NAACP unveiled a two-year plan Monday to register more African-American voters and get them to the polls.

NAACP leaders said the get-out-the-vote campaign would involve partnerships with churches, businesses and community volunteers to educate and register voters and even shuttle them to the polls in Cincinnati's predominantly black neighborhoods.

So far, the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati and the Hamilton County-Cincinnati Community Action Agency have pledged their support.

Racial discrimination in Cincinnati is "inexcusable" and it "cannot be tolerated," said Dr. Calvert Smith, president of the local chapter, and a change will take place only when elected officials are held accountable to the African-American community, he said. The best way to do that is through the ballot box.

"We haven't been taken seriously by our politicians, and that is as much our fault as anybody else's," Smith said. Voting "is the American way. We just haven't done a very good job of taking advantage of it."

African-Americans make up roughly 43 percent of the city's 331,285 residents. Yet last November, only one in four voters showed up at the polls in some of Cincinnati's predominantly black wards - a much lower turnout than the rest of Hamilton County.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has targeted its campaign at Avondale, Bond Hill, Over-the-Rhine, West End, Walnut Hills, Evanston, Northside, Winton Terrace, Roselawn and Madisonville, all areas with low voter turnout.

Smith said several factors contribute to low turnout.

Some black voters have trouble getting to their polls, including some who have to transfer buses to reach a voting place.

Sometimes, polling places are moved without the voter's knowledge, Smith said.

And, citing past election problems with hanging chads and outdated voting equipment, some blacks think their votes don't count, Smith said.

"When you are struggling to survive and make it, any mishap can be discouraging," he said.

NAACP officials expect more cooperation than they received in years past.

Last year, the civil rights organization approached at least seven churches to use their vans to transport voters.

But the churches refused because the NAACP couldn't reimburse them.

This year, the NAACP is exploring ways to reward the organization that gets the most African-Americans registered and to the polls.

The NAACP also plans to support the Cincinnati Black United Front's Freedom Summer event on April 4. The project also focuses on voter registration and African-American civic concerns.

"The war against racism is not won simply because a few positive strides are made, and it cannot be won on good will, good intentions or promises," Smith said. "The war can only be won when the African-American community ... works together to put in place people who in fact have concern for all people in this city."

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com

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