Claremore Daily Progress

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October 2, 2012

Churches using ‘souls to polls’ to rally vote

MIAMI — It’s not just the collection plate that’s getting passed around this fall at hundreds of mainly African-American and Latino churches in presidential battleground states and across the nation.

Exhorting congregations to register to vote, church leaders are distributing registration cards in the middle of services, and many are pledging caravans of “souls to the polls” to deliver the vote.

The stepped-up effort in many states is a response by activists worried that new election rules, from tougher photo identification requirements to fewer days of early voting, are unfairly targeting minority voters — specifically, African-Americans who tend to vote heavily for Democrats. Some leaders compare their registration and get-out-the-vote efforts to the racial struggle that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“In light of all this, we are saying just let our people vote,” said the Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, social justice minister at the Shorter Community A.M.E. Church in Denver. “The people are being oppressed by these measures. It has ignited a sense of urgency and collective power that we can take by engaging in the process.”

In key swing states such as Florida and Ohio, proponents of the new election rules deny they are aimed at suppressing the minority vote in hopes of helping Republicans win more races. Reasons for their enactment vary between rooting out fraud and purging ineligible voters to streamlining the voting process.

But to some African-American leaders like the Rev. F.E. Perry, a Cleveland-based bishop in Ohio’s Church of God in Christ, it’s as if the 1960s barriers to black civil rights have returned all over again.

“We’ve come too far to sit idly by and watch that happen,” Perry said. “We want to get souls to the polls. Whatever it takes to get them there, that’s what we’re going to do.”

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