MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Thousands of Hispanic, Caribbean and African-American voters across Florida will head to polling precincts starting Saturday to usher in Souls to the Polls Weekend, as the state’s Early Voting period begins.
Clergy, union honchos, activists and civic leaders in several parts of the state are leading the effort, dubbed Operation Lemonade. These leaders say they will make sure crowds of minorities; women and young adults are at the precincts in a show of force. Some activists say organizations had to work triple time in the last two months to boost registration numbers because of state legislation that toughened the requirements and penalties for third-party organizations that register new voters.
Those rules scared most organizations away from doing registrations, including the League of Women Voters and the black Greek letter organizations, which historically have performed voter registration as part of their civic service duties.
“We covered a lot of ground in a short period of time,” said Vanessa Woodard Byers, civic engagement chair with the Gamma Zeta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. “Of course we wish we had gotten more people, but under the conditions we faced we’re just grateful and prayerful.”
Early Voting in Florida goes from Oct. 27 through Nov.3 – a much shorter period than voters had in 2008. The state Legislature reduced the number of days from 14 to 8. In that time frame, voters can cast ballots at designated precincts prior to Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 6.
In 2008, influential clergy members, civic leaders and activists across the state helped drive the record turnout of black voters. South Florida expects to surpass that milestone this year, despite the shorter period.
In South Florida, Rev. Al Sharpton, in support of Bishop Victor T. Curry, founding Senior Pastor/Teacher of the New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International, Senior Pastor of the Greater St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church of Dania Beach and President of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the National Action Network, will lead four rallies at Early Voting Sites, starting 6:30 a.m. in downtown Miami at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, then moving to the South Dade Regional Library, the Lauderhill Mall and ending during the afternoon in Pompano Beach at the E. Pat Larkin Community Center. There also will be street marches from parks to early voting sites in black, Haitian and Hispanic neighborhoods.
“We have been handed lemons through a reduced early voting period,” said Bishop Curry. “Our community will make Lemonade out of this tactic to deter voters by mobilizing and voting early beginning on October 27th.”
On Saturday, activists in five major regions – Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Palm Beach — will host a rally to mark the start of early voting. In Jacksonville, voters will gather at Norwood Flea Market, where ministers will bless the city’s polling precincts, then the crowd will march over to the Supervisor of Elections office to vote.
The regional coordination comes through a partnership between Florida New Majority, SEIU State Council and a host of local organizations and faith communities.
“It’s recognition of what’s at stake and of how much we have to gain working together that has brought the grassroots out in force across Florida,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority and FNM Education Fund.
On Sunday, Reverend Sharpton will deliver a Voter Empowerment Message during the 7:00am and 11:00am Worship Services at the New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International in Miami and during the 10:00am Worship Service at the Greater St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church in Dania Beach. The “Our Vote Our Victory” Souls to the Polls event will begin at 1:30pm at the early voting site, Joseph Caleb Center in Miami. Congregations from several churches in the five regions will leave services to go to designated early voting sites to vote as part of the “Souls to the Polls” Weekend of activities.
Clergy members and others laud weekend voting because it fits the schedules of working-class voters, who have a harder time getting to precincts during the work week.
Pundits and political analysts around the country have cast doubt that blacks, Latinos and young people will come out in numbers similar to four years ago. Monday’s meeting is designed to show the black community is engaged and ready to work, said Bishop Victor T. Curry, senior pastor at New Birth and president of the Miami chapter of the National Action Network.
“Some people think the 2008 turnout was a fluke,” Curry said. “We will show that this is the real thing. We know that when we turn up to the polls we win.”