As of Tuesday, May 24, 5% of the mail-in ballots for the City of Los Angeles had been returned and according to the tracking, African Americans are returning ballots at a much lower rate than other groups.
“In fact”, said public policy expert Kerman Maddox, “people need to understand the election is happening now, it ends on June 7th, but people can mail in their ballots or drop them off at a location that’s convenient for them now.
“At this stage other groups are returning their ballots at a higher rate and thus outperforming African American Voters, but there is time to reverse this trend, particularly for African Americans seeking office in this election cycle.”
Maddox isn’t the only one concerned.
Pastor Norman Johnson, who works with the South Los Angeles Clergy for Public Accountability, a coalition of some of the city’s leading African American pastors, is working with other pastors to encourage early voting.
“One of the things that we did was to send a message out to members of our coalition that this Sunday and the next, that they stress the importance of having their congregants mail their ballots in early. Secondly, we’re organizing to get some boots on the ground and have some of our people canvassing neighborhoods to encourage people to get their ballots in.”
Johnson noted that with the demographics shifting and Blacks moving out of the city that it was more important than ever to have Black voters turn out in higher numbers.
“In past elections we had the benefit of African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation Project (AAVREP) and it made a huge difference in helping to turn out the Black vote.”
Founded in 2002 by Mark Ridley-Thomas, the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation (AAVREP)’s mission was to increase African American and urban voter registration, education, and civic participation, and served to train more than 2,500 community-based team members in voter registration and mobilization while registering upwards of 200,000 voters. Additionally, the group conducted extensive focus groups and polling of African American voters in state and local elections and strategically deployed volunteers to hundreds of precincts and polling places to help educate, persuade and turn out African American voters in local and state elections.
In its absence, groups like SCLC have tried to fill the void.
“Here in L.A.—and around the country, there are critical issues and races we—as Black people—need to be on top of and because of it we are doing all we can to encourage early voting from social media messaging to actually getting out into the community,” said Rev. William Smart, president of SCLC’s L.A. chapter.
“The early numbers aren’t good insofar as turnout,” Smart continued. “What normally motivates us is someone running or a policy instigated against us, but we have to make that transition for our people to not wait until election day and instead to vote now. The urgency for voting has begun. Doubling the black vote would transform the attention we get at City Hall and at the state house.”
On the ballot are candidates for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and Assembly, as well as candidates for local elected positions like the much publicized L.A. Mayor’s race.
Mail-in ballot voting has been underway since the second week in May with the election concluding on June 7.