Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of The Choice


To the Rev. Fer’Rell Malone of Waycross, Georgia, the actions by his state legislators that could curtail Sunday “Souls to the Polls” activities are akin to a form of apartheid.

“They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say that they are Christians,” the Black pastor told reporters Wednesday (March 10) in a virtual news conference.

He said the lawmakers are focused on reducing effective strategies Black churches have historically employed to mobilize voters.

“They’re trying, with the voter suppression laws, to create a system of apartheid where they who have the power will retain the power,” he said.

RELATED: Biden victory in hand, Black church get-out-the-vote workers assess the future

Malone’s is one of more than 500 signatures on a Faith in Public Life petition delivered to Governor Brian Kemp that condemns proposed changes in voting policies they say will particularly harm people of color.

The Georgia House bill, which passed the Republican-majority body by a vote of 97-72 on Monday, would permit at least one Saturday for voting near the time of a future Election Day but would allow registrars to choose whether to offer voters an additional Saturday or Sunday to vote.

In recent elections in the state, Black church leaders have spearheaded “Souls to the Polls” campaigns that led worshippers directly from their pews to their polling places.

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice reported this month that Georgia’s Black voters accounted for 36.5% percent of Sunday voters but only 26.8% of people who voted early on other days of the week.

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said this week there are more than 250 bills related to voting restrictions being considered by state legislators across the country.

Georgia’s House and Senate proposals, which Abrams said would particularly harm people of color, relate not only to Sunday voting but also would eliminate automatic voter registration and no-excuses absentee balloting and would require a copy of a driver’s license with mailed-in ballots.

“Black people, people of color have always been the target of voter suppression because it is when we lift our voices, it is when we participate in elections, it is when we have the right to full citizenship that the trajectory of this nation changes,” Abrams, who has a United Methodist background, said Tuesday on a Facebook Live program hosted by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder.

In January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, her state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively, were sworn in, giving the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority. Two months before on Election Day, a record Black voter turnout helped flip the Peach State from red to blue for the first time since 1992.

The Georgia state legislators are also proposing limitations that would criminalize volunteers — who are often connected to faith groups — if they provide food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

“The lines were so incredibly long that we had multiple reports of people fainting in lines for having to stand up for too long,” said Fair Fight Action organizing director Hillary Holley of the 2020 election, speaking during the news conference. “We saw ambulances have to get called because our elders were passing out while trying to vote.”

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, an AME minister who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said in an interview that her group has been fighting laws restricting voting, including as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the secretary of state that was dismissed on Tuesday.

Though Missouri doesn’t have early voting as Georgia does, Gould said her organization continues to oppose other kinds of voting restrictions that she says disproportionately affect African Americans. In February, the Missouri House passed a bill that requires voters to provide a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot.

“For me it’s really egregious when there are concentrated efforts to minimize democracy, to actually shrink the electorate,” said Gould, who is also the religious affairs director for the state’s NAACP chapter.

The developments in Georgia came during the anniversary week of Bloody Sunday, when church leaders and other civil rights activists were attacked by state troopers as they fought and bled for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.

Min. Shavonne Williams, an Augusta-based organizing ambassador for Faith in Public Life, recalled that historic time and said voting has long been a unified front for Black church members.

But, in addition to concerns about Black voters, the legislators’ actions have prompted questions about constitutionality and religious freedom, according to Graham Younger, Georgia director for Faith in Public Life.

Early weekend voting opportunities are vital to many residents who are unable for various reasons to vote on a weekday. Limiting which weekend day polls may be open, however, can affect worshippers of a variety of faiths and racial/ethnic groups, including Jewish congregants and members of Seventh-day Adventist churches who cannot vote on Saturdays, due to Sabbath restrictions.

“The choice that counties will now be making is between different groups’ holy days,” Younger said. “Not everyone’s holy day is Sunday.”

Conservative religious groups, including Family Research Council, support “ election integrity ” state-level provisions such as ones that require voter identification and limit no-excuses mail-in voting.

Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister based in California who was involved in 2020 Black church voter mobilization initiatives, said organizers are pushing back against legislators seeking to reduce “Souls to the Polls” and other activities.

As they work on signing letters and raising awareness about state proposals, they also will urge passage of the For the People Act, which he hopes will “take the teeth out of a lot of these very wicked Republican schemes.”

“I believe this is tantamount to the church bombings the Ku Klux Klan did to terrorize Black people from engaging in voter registration and engagement,” said McBride, a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, in an interview. “Rather than using church bombs, they’re trying to use these kinds of state policies.”

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of The Choice


To the Rev. Fer’Rell Malone of Waycross, Georgia, the actions by his state legislators that could curtail Sunday “Souls to the Polls” activities are akin to a form of apartheid.

“They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say that they are Christians,” the Black pastor told reporters Wednesday (March 10) in a virtual news conference.

He said the lawmakers are focused on reducing effective strategies Black churches have historically employed to mobilize voters.

“They’re trying, with the voter suppression laws, to create a system of apartheid where they who have the power will retain the power,” he said.

RELATED: Biden victory in hand, Black church get-out-the-vote workers assess the future

Malone’s is one of more than 500 signatures on a Faith in Public Life petition delivered to Governor Brian Kemp that condemns proposed changes in voting policies they say will particularly harm people of color.

The Georgia House bill, which passed the Republican-majority body by a vote of 97-72 on Monday, would permit at least one Saturday for voting near the time of a future Election Day but would allow registrars to choose whether to offer voters an additional Saturday or Sunday to vote.

In recent elections in the state, Black church leaders have spearheaded “Souls to the Polls” campaigns that led worshippers directly from their pews to their polling places.

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice reported this month that Georgia’s Black voters accounted for 36.5% percent of Sunday voters but only 26.8% of people who voted early on other days of the week.

Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said this week there are more than 250 bills related to voting restrictions being considered by state legislators across the country.

Georgia’s House and Senate proposals, which Abrams said would particularly harm people of color, relate not only to Sunday voting but also would eliminate automatic voter registration and no-excuses absentee balloting and would require a copy of a driver’s license with mailed-in ballots.

“Black people, people of color have always been the target of voter suppression because it is when we lift our voices, it is when we participate in elections, it is when we have the right to full citizenship that the trajectory of this nation changes,” Abrams, who has a United Methodist background, said Tuesday on a Facebook Live program hosted by the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder.

In January, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, her state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively, were sworn in, giving the U.S. Senate a Democratic majority. Two months before on Election Day, a record Black voter turnout helped flip the Peach State from red to blue for the first time since 1992.

The Georgia state legislators are also proposing limitations that would criminalize volunteers — who are often connected to faith groups — if they provide food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

“The lines were so incredibly long that we had multiple reports of people fainting in lines for having to stand up for too long,” said Fair Fight Action organizing director Hillary Holley of the 2020 election, speaking during the news conference. “We saw ambulances have to get called because our elders were passing out while trying to vote.”

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, an AME minister who is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said in an interview that her group has been fighting laws restricting voting, including as a co-plaintiff in a suit against the secretary of state that was dismissed on Tuesday.

Though Missouri doesn’t have early voting as Georgia does, Gould said her organization continues to oppose other kinds of voting restrictions that she says disproportionately affect African Americans. In February, the Missouri House passed a bill that requires voters to provide a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot.

“For me it’s really egregious when there are concentrated efforts to minimize democracy, to actually shrink the electorate,” said Gould, who is also the religious affairs director for the state’s NAACP chapter.

The developments in Georgia came during the anniversary week of Bloody Sunday, when church leaders and other civil rights activists were attacked by state troopers as they fought and bled for voting rights in Alabama in 1965.

Min. Shavonne Williams, an Augusta-based organizing ambassador for Faith in Public Life, recalled that historic time and said voting has long been a unified front for Black church members.

But, in addition to concerns about Black voters, the legislators’ actions have prompted questions about constitutionality and religious freedom, according to Graham Younger, Georgia director for Faith in Public Life.

Early weekend voting opportunities are vital to many residents who are unable for various reasons to vote on a weekday. Limiting which weekend day polls may be open, however, can affect worshippers of a variety of faiths and racial/ethnic groups, including Jewish congregants and members of Seventh-day Adventist churches who cannot vote on Saturdays, due to Sabbath restrictions.

“The choice that counties will now be making is between different groups’ holy days,” Younger said. “Not everyone’s holy day is Sunday.”

Conservative religious groups, including Family Research Council, support “ election integrity ” state-level provisions such as ones that require voter identification and limit no-excuses mail-in voting.

Pastor Mike McBride, a Pentecostal minister based in California who was involved in 2020 Black church voter mobilization initiatives, said organizers are pushing back against legislators seeking to reduce “Souls to the Polls” and other activities.

As they work on signing letters and raising awareness about state proposals, they also will urge passage of the For the People Act, which he hopes will “take the teeth out of a lot of these very wicked Republican schemes.”

“I believe this is tantamount to the church bombings the Ku Klux Klan did to terrorize Black people from engaging in voter registration and engagement,” said McBride, a founder of the Black Church Action Fund, in an interview. “Rather than using church bombs, they’re trying to use these kinds of state policies.”

Getting ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Florida

Getting ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Florida

WALKING BY FAITH TO THE POLLS: Dozens af marchers from various churches leave the New Hope Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday Oct. 28, 2012, en route to the African American Cultural Library to vote. (Photo: Joe Cavaretta, South Florida Sun Sentinel)

On a day punctuated by echoes of the civil rights movement, hundreds of people poured out of churches after services in South Florida’s historic black neighborhoods Sunday to march to the voting booth, intent on honoring a right for which ancestors shed their blood.

“People have died so I could do this,” said James Gadsen, 74, a deacon at New Hope Baptist Church, the rallying point for the mile-long walk down Sistrunk Boulevard to the polls in the African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale. “Too many people have given up too much for me not to go vote.”

In Boynton Beach, scores of parishioners gathered at St. John Missionary Baptist Church and other houses or worship and were bused to various polling sites.

“We do not make an endorsement, but we urge people to consider a candidate who would do what Jesus would require,” said the Rev. Nathaniel Robinson, pastor of Greater St. Paul AME Church, who led his parishioners to the polls in Delray Beach.

Dubbed “Souls to the Polls,” the get-out-the-vote effort on the second day of statewide early voting was sponsored by several churches, local NAACP chapters and several public service sororities and fraternities, including Delta Sigma Theta.

The march reflected the tradition of many black voters casting their ballots after church on the Sunday before Election Day.

This year, however, the eight-day period set aside for early voting — cut from 14 days in the last presidential election — does not include the Sunday before Nov. 6. Early voting ends Saturday.

Many Democrats charged that Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature scaled back on early voting for 2012 to suppress the minority vote. Republicans deny that charge.

But those marching Sunday said they did not want to take any chances.

“We need to make sure our voices are heard,” said march organizer and attorney Alfreda Coward of Delta Sigma Theta. “And we need to make sure we elect people who are passionate about the issues that we are passionate about.”

The march and the rally outside the polls were nonpartisan. Both Democratic and Republican candidates were introduced before most marchers got in line to vote.

But there was little doubt which of the presidential nominees most of the marchers backed.

“Four more years,” the crowd chanted as the marchers streamed past Ray’s Meat Market, BG’s Home Cooking, under Interstate 95 and over the New River Bridge on a breezy, sunny day.

Not everyone marching was eligible to vote. Among the many youngsters joining family groups was Isaiah Blackwell, 15, a student at Northeast High School. Walking beside his grandmother, Blackwell said he could sense the historical precedents he had only read about.

“This makes me think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle against segregation,” he said. “We have to vote to succeed as a country.”

Inside the library, Broward County supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes said at mid-afternoon that waiting time to get into one of the 50 voting booths ran from 20 to 60 minutes.

That wait time was down from Saturday, when Broward set a record for a single day of presidential early voting.

“We had 28,000 people vote Saturday,” said Snipes. “That is an exceptional number, shocking. I did not realize that people would turn out the way they did.”

By 4 p.m. Sunday, more than 19,000 had cast ballots in Broward County, according to county election officials.

The count of first-day early voters in Palm Beach County on Saturday was more than 13,200, according to elections office spokeswoman Erin Lewandowski. Numbers from Sunday were unavailable.

Whether Sunday’s effort will make up for the loss of early-voting days remains to be seen. But this campaign in South Florida, along with other faith-based efforts in cities like Pensacola, Tampa, Orlando, Kissimmee, and Gainesville, will give Florida residents a chance to try.

© 2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL). Distributed by MCT Information Services. Used by arrangement with Newscom.