By Matias Ramos
If this is a battleground state, Obama supporters in Nevada seem more than up to task. After two days in Las Vegas, I am impressed by the groundwork done by the thousands of volunteers that are working to get out the vote for Barack Obama. And some of them are still pouring in. Last night, I joined the young volunteers of PowerPAC’s Drive for Change campaign, a group of 20 California voters and volunteers that made the journey up I-15 to help out neighboring Nevada by making phone calls and knocking doors in Henderson, a city located right outside Las Vegas.
Barack Obama visited Henderson on Saturday morning. He spoke in front of an estimated 15,000 in the football field of Henderson’s Coronado High School. A diverse and joyful crowd, some of whom had camped out through the night to secure a spot in front of the line, mixed local voters and out-of-state volunteers to welcome Obama.
The doors open around 6:45AM, much earlier than announced and with the line already circling around the block. As the crowd filled the football-field-turned-campaign-stage, Las Vegas congressional candidate Dina Titus mingled with the crowd, encouraging them to vote blue down the ticket in her quest to represent a district currently held by a Republican.
California State Senator Gil Cedillo also walked around the field, greeting the many California volunteers who had made it to Henderson. Both Titus and Cedillo urged those present to join them in walking the precincts that afternoon.
At around 10AM, the rally began with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rallying his constituents to support Senator Obama. A fellow PowerPAC volunteer snapped this picture just as Barack walked onstage.
The crowd roared in response to his message of commitment to change, and once the rally was over, everyone was ready to visit voters in all the precincts surrounding Las Vegas. We left Henderson and headed to North Las Vegas, where we had been assigned to a lower middle-class neighborhood where many houses have been foreclosed and voters are disgruntled. The need for a change in the direction of our country was evident in this particular block, but we were also able to notice how Nevadans who were skeptical about supporting Obama over issues like taxes and gun control. We battled the myths and spoke truthfully about Barack Obama’s stances. In addition, we were greeted with enthusiasm by many of the early voters who had already cast their vote in support of the Democratic candidate.
Today, the volunteers of the Drive for Change Campaign are visiting Henderson with the same message of hope and progress. The excitement level remains high and we are 32 hours away from the end. Let’s go change the world!
The 2008 election is critical nationally, but there are also several important measures and local candidates here in California. In addition to voting for Barack Obama for President, PowerPAC urges Californians to vote No on Prop 8, which would strip the right to marry from same-sex couples, and No on Prop 11, which would allow for biased redistricting. Here are our local candidate endorsements:
To view mailers for these candidates, click here.
The "Vote Early, Vote Big" project, sponsored by the Cleveland NAACP and PowerPAC, has really exploded since about eight churches participated on the afternoon of October 12th. That number grew to about twenty churches the next week, and on the third Sunday this past weekend more than thirty churches were involved. Ten buses and several vans ferried voters from churches to the downtown Board of Elections, with many more church members traveling via informal car pool.
I drove to Good Shepherd Baptist Church in the far northeastern part of Cleveland to observe the program there. This church is in a newer building nestled among residential streets uphill from busy Euclid Avenue. Pastor Walter L. Ratcliffe was in the middle of his sermon when I arrived, but an usher told me that he had described the"Vote Early, Vote Big" project at the beginning of the service. The title of his sermon was "Remembering God," with Pastor Ratcliffe urging the congregation to remember the Almighty during these hard economic times:
People are losing their money invested in stocks, but remember God. People are losing their jobs, but remember God. This election has incited the racial divide, but remember God. Remember God, and remember all that He has done before.After the service, the pastor stood outside the front door of the church and directed members of the congregation to the waiting transportation. "If you're going to vote, God bless you," he said. "There's the bus and a van, right over there in the parking lot."
Despite the gray sky and drizzle, the bus and van filled up quickly. Pastor Ratcliffe announced that he would drive downtown separately and take passengers along. After all the loading and arranging, we all departed for the ten mile drive down Euclid Avenue to the Board of Elections.
The scene downtown was astonishing. Buses lined 30th Street alongside First United Methodist Church, site of the reception for "Vote Early, Vote Big" participants. A line of at least 300 early voters filled the sidewalk along the front and side of the Board of Elections building. Candidates and their representatives talked to those waiting in line (beyond the 100 foot perimeter established by Ohio law), and journalists from local television station WKYC-TV and the New York Times conducted interviews. Common Pleas Judge Lance Mason waved to me from across Euclid Boulevard and called out, "It's democracy! Isn't it grand?" Local news reports indicated that evening that about 2,000 people voted that afternoon.
I walked back to the reception to watch project participants enjoying the refreshments and listening to speakers talk about the historic importance of the right to vote. I asked Maxine Greer, Outreach Director for the First United Methodist Church, to explain its role in the project and how she saw it fitting into the church's overall mission. She explained that her church partnered with the NAACP to host the reception so that people could celebrate voting early. She said that more and more people were participating each week, with the 250 or so voters on the first Sunday growing to between 700 and 1,000 on the third Sunday. She described it as a non-partisan effort that fit into the church's mission to help improve the lives of the people of Cleveland. "This is about people exercising their God-given right to vote," she said, "helping them to exercise their right to live a better life through the political process." She explained that the church provided the hall along with the tables and tablecloths, and landmark Cleveland restaurant Lancer's Steak House catered the food (fried chicken, meatballs, green beans, potato salad, and lemonade).
Back on the street, observing the throng waiting to enter the Board of Elections to vote, I met Stanley R. Miller, Executive Director of the Cleveland NAACP. He called it a "special occasion" and "a great program." As a non-partisan group the NAACP is not concerned with who wins, he said, but with making sure that people have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in a safe and protected manner. He said that word has gotten out about the program, and that the NAACP has been on the television and radio promoting it. With participation next week expected to be even higher, he said that the Board of Elections is looking at providing additional facilities for voting.
Although the wait to get into the Board of Elections was long, the voters in line seemed to be in a fairly upbeat mood. As I spoke with Mr. Miller people in line (across the street from where we stood) began to sing "We Shall Overcome." He beamed. "This is really a special moment," he said.
Check out the video, and narrative with photos that follows about PowerPAC's early voting outreach in Ohio:
On Saturday morning I joined about fifteen people gathered in an office on 40th Street in Cleveland for the first of two scheduled visibility-and-canvassing outings. These events are part of a project sponsored by PowerPAC, aptly named "Vote Today!" The purpose of the project, as explained to me by organizer Cliff Albright, is to get residents in Cleveland's downtown neighborhoods excited about voting, and to encourage as many of them as possible to vote early. "Because of the issues we experienced in 2004, with long lines and other problems under the Secretary of State we had then, we are encouraging people to avoid the lines and the chaos by voting early," Albright said. "We're just trying to get the vote out, and get as many people as possible to early vote, which is a challenge here in Cleveland because it's the first presidential election that they're doing early voting."
I talked to a few of the participants while Albright printed out name tags and walk sheets. A woman named Mary told me that this was her second time participating in the project. People are "pretty responsive," she said. Residents in city neighborhoods are very aware of the historic nature of the election -- in fact they are "obsessed" with it. "They are watching CNN all the time," she said. "I've never seen anything like it." Another participant, Shirley, explained that although people are focused on the election, they still need to get the information about voting early. "We need to get the word out to the people any way we can," she said. "Whether it's going to their doors or talking to them on the street."
For the morning shift, the group would break into teams and perform two tasks. As long as the Board of Elections was open for early voting downtown (until 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays), participants would engage in the visibility or "human billboard" campaign, displaying big red-and-black "Vote Today!" signs in high-traffic areas and urging residents to go vote immediately. Addressing the group, Albright emphasized this effort as an opportunity to reach a large number of voters quickly, and to generate excitement while distributing information and answering questions about early voting. After 1:00 the participants would switch to door-to-door canvassing, asking residents whether they will vote early (or have already voted), and whether they need a ride to the polls, as well as delivering fliers about early voting. Albright explained that the idea is not to say who anyone should vote for, but only to let people know that they can vote early and to make sure that they know how to do it.
I followed one of the teams to the busy intersection of 105th Street and Superior Avenue in a predominantly African American part of Cleveland. Sign-wielding participants occupied all four corners, calling out "Vote Today! Go to 30th and Euclid, you can cast your vote today!" They passed out fliers to pedestrians and people waiting in the bus shelter, as well as motorists stopped for the traffic light.
It was apparent that many people were confused about the procedures for early voting. Several had to be assured that it wasn't too late, and many were unaware of the location and hours of the Board of Elections. The new weekend hours for early voting seemed to come as a particular surprise.
After a few hours of visibility work the team climbed back into the van (emblazoned with "Vote Today!" signs on the doors) and drove to the Columbia neighborhood for door-to-door canvassing. It was distressing to see how many of the bungalow-style houses were for sale, including many standing vacant with boarded-up windows -- victims of the housing crisis. The canvassers appeared to be finding residents at home in about a third of the occupied houses, many of which had Obama signs in the yards or in windows. I heard several residents thanking the canvassers for stopping by and wishing them a blessed day. One resident had been registered to vote for many years but was concerned that his name may have been dropped from the voter rolls. Albright explained that in such cases he can take the voters' information, check registration status online, and call the voters back with the information.
Although there are many voters still unclear about voting procedures, efforts to promote early voting are clearly having a big impact. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced yesterday that almost 1.5 million Ohioans had requested absentee ballots (whether in-person or by mail) through October 24th, equal to almost a quarter of the expected turnout of 6.5 million voters. She expects early voting to account for as much as one third of overall votes cast. An Ohio poll released by Survey USA this morning confirms that report, indicating that 22% of respondents had already voted, and that Barack Obama leads John McCain among early voters by 13 points (56% to 39%). Although overall turnout is expected to reach the historic level of 80% of registered voters, the pace of early voting promises to reduce the actual turnout on Election Day to levels that have been accommodated without excessive problems in prior presidential elections.
Check out these photos and descriptions of PowerPAC's early vote canvassing operation in Cleveland, Ohio:
Ben Smith at Politico notes the incredible early voting surge going on in Ohio.
The church mobilizations he mentions here were co-sponsored by PowerPAC and the Cleveland branch of the NAACP:
An Ohio Democrat sends in this picture of this line outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, where thousands of lined up today to vote early. Another photo showed lines of buses outside, as churches had bused their parishoners over.
Meanwhile, in Florida, the latest official numbers show Democrats taking a lead over Republicans in the votes already cast, 871,251 to 818,799. The GOP has a lead in mail ballots, but the Democrats have made up the difference with huge early vote numbers — more than half a million so far.
He also posts the photo below of the line snaking around the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections:
Jeff Coryell, our awesome blogger in Cleveland, put together this mini-documentary about the first "Vote Big, Vote Early" church mobilization this past Sunday. Our team in Cleveland is working with the NAACP to mobilize churchgoers in an effort to boost voter turnout among African-Americans, who are historically underrepresented in the electorate. Check it out here:
Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in the Mount Pleasant area of Cleveland was packed this past Sunday and the mood was celebratory. The service marked the 25th anniversary of the arrival of Pastor Larry L. Harris, with speakers and musical performers paying tribute to the minister and his family. However, economic hard times were not far from the minds of residents of this hard-hit neighborhood. A call for donations to pay for renovations to the church (including a wheel chair lift) was tempered by an acknowledgment that money is tight, and guest preacher Rev. Melvin T. Jones of the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing spoke during his sermon about the severe impact of the economic downturn.
At the end of the service, Pastor Harris had a special message for his congregation. Parked on the tree-lined street outside the red brick church were two buses waiting to transport churchgoers to the Board of Elections in downtown Cleveland. The minister spoke about the history and importance of the precious right to vote and urged the members of his flock to ride the buses downtown so they could cast their votes early and celebrate the act of voting. He also emphasized the importance of voting in advance of Election Day, in order to reduce the crowding and confusion that has been experienced in low-income and minority polling places in the past.
The buses were there because of "Vote Early, Vote Big," a nonpartisan project sponsored by a coalition of organizations including the Cleveland NAACP and PowerPAC. Its goal is to mobilize and empower unprecedented numbers of Cleveland low-income and minority residents to vote early by providing not only transportation but also an atmosphere of celebration, including a post-voting reception near the Board of Elections with refreshments and speeches from community leaders. These festivities are to occur on each of the Sundays during the early voting period, and other targeted days as well. Participants are not encouraged to vote for any particular candidate, and voting is not required for participation in the ride and refreshments.
As the service at Mt Olive drew to a close I mingled with people waiting to board the buses. Church members Sherry and Caroline were happy to talk about the significance of voting and of having buses provided. "For me, its what our grandparents and we talked about, that we have a hand in history, and we have a legacy that we can pass on to our children," Sherry said. "This is more than just voting this year, this is a movement."
Caroline said that she was part of the movement when it started, "back when Dr. Martin Luther King started this dream." It is "so exciting to see this, that this is about to happen," she continued. "We are just standing here anxiously waiting for the congregation to get out so that we can get on the buses and go vote!"
A volunteer named Manda, who was helping to coordinate the buses, told me she got involved with the project because "I just think it's an incredible thing to see people in their communities going out with the support of each other and the kind of camaraderie and fun that can be involved in getting them to vote early in this particularly historic election."
I boarded one of the buses with about forty people and sat next to Mary, who is not a member of the congregation at Mt Olive but was glad of the opportunity to be driven to the Board of Elections. "I'm getting a little old and I don't like to walk far," she explained.
Andretta, sitting across the aisle, told me that she was very excited about riding the bus. "Voting is very important," she said. "I'm glad to see so many people on the bus and I'm excited about going. This is a very important election this year, and I'm just glad to be part of it." As to early voting, she said that it helps to avoid the chaos on Election Day. "For me, I can get up that day and go to work, without worrying about it." Another passenger, Denise, explained that she is a poll worker so she needs to vote ahead of time, and she is very aware of the need to encourage people to vote early in order to reduce the congestion on election day. The buses are an "excellent idea" to get church people out to vote early, because "a lot of people, they can't get out and get to the polls, and there is a lot of chaos going on" at the polling places.
Arriving at the First United Methodist Church at 30th and Euclid Avenue, the passengers from our two buses sang hymns while disembarking and marching to the nearby Board of Elections building. There we were greeted by solicitous employees and directed to a spacious early voting facility in the basement, except one church member who moves very stiffly with the help of a cane and was encouraged to vote on the first floor. There were more than twenty voter assistance stations set up in the basement, each with an employee seated before a computer terminal to process early voting applications, and additional workers patrolled the room to help guide the voters efficiently through the process. About fifty booths had been set up for marking the paper ballots, with ballot boxes standing nearby. Only about ten or fifteen minutes passed before church members began walking from the Board of Elections building back to the church, where the reception was underway in the fellowship hall.
Buses from the Antioch Baptist Church had come and gone before we entered the reception room, and voters from another Cleveland church were already seated at large round tables covered with colorful tablecloths. Our group of voters signed in at a front table and received a pledge form, on which they were asked to write the names of five friends whom they will encourage to vote early. After signing in we went to a buffet line where volunteers served us spicy meatballs, fried chicken, potato salad, and chips with salsa, accompanied by lemonade.
I sat down to eat near Cherie, who explained that for her it was a great honor to have been able to vote that day. "Within my culture it has not always been a right that we have," she explained, "so I'm very proud to do something that many of my ancestors were not able to do." She also said that it was "an extra special treat" when the buses came and took everyone down to vote together. "Not only do we fellowship in our church, we fellowship in our community by voting and becoming part of the political process and part of the process of change."
Cleveland attorney Subodh Chandra, who has been working with the NAACP on "Vote Early, Vote Big," spoke briefly to the assembled group. Referring to the history and importance of the right to vote, and how much has been sacrificed by so many to secure that right, Chandra urged the participants to honor that history and sacrifice by inspiring five friends to exercise the precious right of voting. "We live in a time when there is so much at stake," he said, "The choices that we make will determine our destiny in ways that we haven't seen in our lifetime. So making sure that everyone who is registered to vote understands their solemn obligation to honor their ancestors and their heirs by exercising their right to vote is so very important."
After the refreshments and lots of conversation and laughter, I joined the churchgoers in boarding the buses for the trip back to the church. Here Alli, an organizer for the project, gave the passengers one last enthusiastic message about writing down five names on their pledge sheets. "You are now in charge of those five people, and getting those five people to vote," she declared, and thanked everyone again for their participation. With a rumble the buses were started and we headed back to Mt Olive Church.