Heaven isn’t the only destination pastors and priests have in mind for their congregants this year.

As Election Day draws near, clergy members nationwide are making the final pushes toward their goal of getting every eligible citizen to the voting booth through the “Souls to Polls” initiative.

The project has taken root around the country as registration deadlines pass and early voting centers open. Active churches have passed out registration cards, held registration drives, and even certified members to become registrars as part of the “Souls to Polls” plan.

“This election is very important,” said Craig Key, pastor of Living Word Bible Fellowship in Upper Marlboro, Md. “There’s no sense in complaining about something if you’re not going to vote and be a part of the change.”

Key said he keeps his grandparents who couldn’t vote in mind when it comes to getting all 60 of his members to the polls.

“I’ve told my members to go to GottaVote.org and check their registration status to be sure that their voices are heard.”

The Black church has long been a political force to be reckoned with.

During the civil rights movement African American pastors were key in the fight for not only voting rights, but for equal opportunities in the workforce and in education.
Now, 47 years after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, church leaders are once again taking their place among the many organizations and agencies looking to recreate the unprecedented minority turnout seen in 2008.

“People make up the church,” said Macheest’e Malloy, a member of Baltimore’s Carter Memorial C.O.G.I.C. “We are people with the same issues as everyone else with unemployment, education and the economy.”

“We are allowed to worship freely in our country and if we want it to remain that way, we need to be aware of what each candidate represents and where they stand on the issues.”

Malloy said his pastor, Carl A. Pierce Sr., has been very effective in stressing the importance of registering to vote and participating on Election Day.

Other area churches have made registration cards available for members and conducted registration drives.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau roughly 131 million Americans voted in 2008. That number was five million more than the total number of people who participated in the 2004 general election.

Two million votes from that increase came from the Black community, with a total of 15.9 African Americans casting their ballot in the 2008 general election, according to the Pew Research Center.

Though significant strides were made among minorities, return for the effort has been less than satisfactory.

Between cuts to early registration and early voting periods, changes in voter I.D. laws and felon disenfranchisement, millions stand to lose their voice on Nov. 6.
Early voting has also come under attack.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, in Florida, though African Americans account for only 13 percent of the population, 33% of all voters who used early Sunday voting were Black.

In response to this turnout, Florida has ended Sunday voting on the weekend right before Election Day.

“Early voting and absentee voting are the methods of preference when encouraging people to vote,” said C.D. Witherspoon, leader of the Baltimore Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

“Most people don’t want to be in the lines to cast a vote but if you can get in there and do early voting it creates a way for you to get in and out.”

Witherspoon said involvement from the Black church is the key to success for get out the vote strategies.

“Clearly we’ve got to elect a president, but with the range of different local issues on the referendum it is critical to make sure our voices are heard this election season.”

“It’s important to remember that the Dream Act, same-sex marriage, and gambling issues are all on the referendum.”

Though Witherspoon said the topics are important, it’s the congressional redistricting on the Maryland ballot, that will most dramatically affect African American voters.

Early voting for Washington, D.C. will be conducted from Oct. 22 to Nov.3 at the old Council Chambers at One Judiciary Square. There is also one satellite location for each of the seven wards.

In Maryland, the early voting period begins Oct. 27 and lasts until Nov. 1.
Baltimoreans will be able to cast votes early at five different locations including Edmondson Westside High School, Maritime Industries Academy School, and St. Brigid’s Parish Center.

Prince George’s County voters will be able to vote early at the Upper Marlboro Community Center, College Park Community Center, Bowie Library, and the Wayne K. Curry Sports & Learning Center. 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer