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Statewide Voter Effort Targeting Minorities Kicks Off at the Capitol

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-912688.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A coalition of black lawmakers and civic groups Tuesday launched a statewide effort to register people to vote and get others mobilized for the 2010 election. James Call reports the group wants to tap the surge of new voters who showed up at the polls two years ago.

An important component in the coalition that elected President Barack Obama was first time voters. In Florida, more than 450-thousand citizens cast their first ballot in 2008. There is always a drop off in turn out in a non-presidential year. But, members of the Florida African American Caribbean Empowerment Alliance (FACE) want to get the folks who showed up in 2008 to make a repeat appearance in 2010.

"This is about democracy. It's bigger than any political party. It's about our democratic form of government."

Curtis Richardson is a former state representative, school board member, and candidate for the state Senate seat that includes Tallahassee. He has been encouraging citizen involvement in government before his first candidacy in 1988.

"Certainly we want to have all of the same voters come back that came out to vote for the president. But what we are hoping is that now that they have gotten a taste of democracy and how important their vote is that regardless of who is at the top of the ticket, they will want to participate in that process and know the importance of electing people that will look out for their best interest."

The National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC) estimates almost three-quarters of the 2008 rookie voters may fail to make a return appearance in 2010. Jacksonville Senator Tony Hill is leading the effort to remind people why it is important to remain civically engaged. The group has identified eighteen counties with significant numbers of African American and Hispanic voters.

"We want to let them know that when there are educational issues, we want to be at the table. When there are health care issues, we want to be at the table. And with all this immigration and anti-stuff, we want to make sure that the gains that we have made over the years through civil rights are still viable and that we are going to hold those candidates accountable on those issues."

Hill said the African American Caribbean Alliance effort is non-partisan, but the group does describe itself as a progressive coalition, and it will be working the same ground as an effort by the Democratic National Committee. An analysis of Democratic losses in special elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed a steep decline among African American, Hispanic and younger voters; the people Hill intends to target in Florida.

"As we begin to work this work and begin to fight this fight, the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. So we are going to be working across the breadth and length of this state to make sure that we keep true democracy flowing in the state of Florida."

Floridians will vote in an August 24th primary election and a November 2nd general election.