When the recent gubernatorial campaign yielded a reduced voter turnout of only 46% -- and no clear winner -- clergy from Together Louisiana grew concerned, particularly when they learned that turnout from low income and predominantly minority neighborhoods was 17% lower than in 2016.
Says The Rev. Shawn Moses Anglim, pastor of the First Grace Methodist Church in mid-city New Orleans: “When major blocs of people aren’t participating that worries me. Whatever their reasons, it’s not good for the country, it’s not good for the state, and it’s not good for New Orleans.”
Reaching out to pastors from diverse denominations, he convened a meeting to decide what to do. Congregations in Baton Rouge, Alexandria and Shreveport held similar gatherings.
With help from Together Louisiana and the Power Coalition, the ministers put together envelopes to give to institutional leaders that held the names of about 30 voters who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election but didn’t participate in the previous month's primary. Leaders were commissioned to reaching out personally to each of those voters and asking them to participate.
The nonpartisan strategy appeared to be working, with the first day of early voting yielding the highest turnout ever -- about 2,500 more than in 2016.
At a Baton Rouge event last week organized by Together Louisiana, representatives of various community groups stood in a line to announce, one after another, how many volunteers they had and how many voters they would visit. Julie Hoffman of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge, for instance, told the cheering audience that her temple had six volunteers who would talk to 180 voters.
Volunteers took their lists of names, addresses and phone numbers and started knocking on doors.
Morgan Clevenger, president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association, was one of the volunteers in New Orleans’ 7th ward.
“You have to have a have conversation with them about why voting is important,” Clevenger said. Many people feel their vote doesn’t matter. They’ve voted before but haven’t seen a change, so feel that their specific vote doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
“I say, ‘I hear you saying my vote doesn’t matter.’ I say, ‘If you don’t vote for you, would you vote for your neighbors?” Clevenger said. “They can get with that. It’s a selfless thing. They can help someone else and that’s a good thing.”
People are more receptive to someone from their own neighborhood. “What we’re doing here is building a community for those who may feel left out,” she said.
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]