October 31, 2008 - Many voting early, fearing they'd be cheated Tuesday
Paper: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Title: Many voting early, fearing they'd be cheated Tuesday
Date: October 31, 2008
Author: Leslie Fulbright, Chronicle Staff Writer
Mary Robinson waited in the line snaking around the ground floor of San Francisco City Hall to cast an early vote for Barack Obama, saying she was excited by the possibility of helping elect an African American president but also fearful about the voting process.
Now 70, she recalled stories her parents told about their fight for the right to vote growing up in Mississippi. As a black woman, she said, it is extremely important to exercise the right to vote that her ancestors fought for so hard.
"Every election is important to a Southern girl," she said, "but this one is historical, and it causes me great concern."
African Americans are among those turning out in record numbers this year to cast their votes early. Black voters say one of the main reasons, apart from the historic opportunity to vote for a black presidential candidate, is that they anticipate problems on election day that could keep their votes from counting.
Behind the fear is history: Many people have not forgotten the Jim Crow laws that prevented African Americans from voting until the 1960s. More recently, when some voters had difficulty with the punch-card design and ballots done improperly were rendered invalid in the 2000 election in Florida, black and Democratic leaders claimed a disproportionate number of those votes had been cast by African Americans. And in 2004 in Ohio, African American voters said they were disenfranchised when too few machines in their precincts led to long lines.
The excitement at the prospect of breaking racial barriers by electing Obama is being tempered by fear that voters will be cheated, that somehow racism will get in the way.
"We all know the polls show him far ahead," said 46-year-old voter Michael Johnson, "but we are still ready for a letdown."
Some of the concerns are proving to be legitimate. For example, a number of people who believed they were registered in San Francisco have shown up at City Hall to vote early, only to be told that they were not registered and had to see a judge to resolve the issue.
"If it was election day, I would be ... out of luck," said Kimberly Toney, who registered to vote at the DMV when she moved to the city in February. "If they told me this on election day and I was too busy to wait, I would have been outside with a picket sign."
Various reasonsGiannina Miranda, executive assistant for the Department of Elections , said some people who think they are registered are not, for various reasons, including a move outside the county or registration paperwork not getting to the department. "It's difficult to say how many times it happens," she said. "But we don't consider it purged."
Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and Third Baptist Church pastor, is one of several African American pastors who will ask his congregation to vote Sunday after church. Vans will gather in Bayview-Hunters Point and the Western Addition to take parishioners from several churches to vote and then hold a rally around 2 p.m. on the steps of City Hall.
"This election is significant, and we want to make sure that our vote is felt and our voices are heard," Brown said. "People are concerned about this election being fair, given what we saw in 2000 with the suppression of the black vote.
"Some people say they would rather vote on election day, but we think this is too important and historical to take the risk that something will happen."
James Bryant, president of the San Francisco chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil and workers' rights group, said his organization has spent the past two weeks shuttling as many as 200 voters a day from predominantly black senior centers and public housing developments to City Hall.
"We are reminding African Americans that there is a historical election going on that is really important," said Bryant, who created a T-shirt with a photo of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and the words, "The Black Vote Counts."
"Our folks are going door to door picking up voters off the street, off the corners."
Brenda Henry-Kitrell has been helping organize the rides to City Hall.
"I am telling people to get in the van and vote, by any means necessary," she said.
She, too, said that some would-be voters have been turned away from the polls.
'Wait to see a judge'"They tell them they have to go to a courtroom between 1:30 and 4 p.m. and wait to see a judge," she said. "If you are a working parent or a single mother, you are set up for failure. You can't sit around and wait."
Jabulani Watson, 22, registered to vote four years ago, but when he showed up to vote Thursday, he was told he wasn't registered.
"I came early because I knew it would be crowded," said Watson. "I didn't know they would say I couldn't vote." Watson said he would see a judge and find time to vote.
"To stand in line and then find out you are purged when you are supposed to be registered is just not fair," said Bryant.
Such experiences have black leaders and community groups urging people to confirm their polling place and registration status as soon as possible. Hot lines have been created and public service announcements featuring black celebrities telling people to vote early are airing on radio stations that appeal to the black community.
"We started early pushing for people to verify registration status," said Melanie Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. "It is essential to get the word out to vote early or be first in line to avoid the drama on Nov. 4.
"Verify, verify, verify is our message so that nothing can go wrong."
The national NAACP plans to have 750 lawyers ready to respond to problems and created a nonpartisan hot line 1 (866) OUR-VOTE for voters to report problems.
A study published in July in the Journal of Politics that surveyed Americans on whether they were confident their votes would be counted found that 69 percent of whites said they were "very confident," while only 30 percent of African Americans felt the same.
Jim Crow lawsThe authors, who surveyed nearly 3,000 voters, attribute the difference to the memory of Jim Crow laws and the perception that there was an organized effort in the last two presidential elections to discriminate against African Americans.
Robinson said after African Americans won the right to vote, her father, who worked as a cabdriver in the 1960s, volunteered to shuttle his neighbors in rural Mississippi to the city so they could cast their ballots.
"Back then, people were afraid to leave home, to even try to vote out of fear they would be killed," Robinson said. "Now I have new concerns. Even though it is 2008, there is still prejudice. I am concerned about Obama and whether they will assassinate him. As a black person, we all have that concern, even though he ran as an American and not a black man.
"The entire process has caused me a lot of stress," admitted Robinson, who said she was going for a seven-day stay at the hospital after she voted, in part related to her anxiety.
Where voters can cast ballots early San Francisco City Hall: 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 48.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Alameda County Registrar of Voters: 1225 Fallon St., Room G-1.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Contra Costa County Election Department: 555 Escobar St., Martinez.
Hours: Friday and Monday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Marin County Registrar of Voters: 3501 Civic Center Dr., Room 121, San Rafael.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and Monday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Napa County Registrar of Voters: 900 Coombs St., Napa.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
San Mateo Registrar of Voters: 40 Tower Rd., San Mateo, or 555 County Center, Redwood City, first floor.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Tuesday.
Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters: 1555 Berger Dr., San Jose, Building 2.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Solano County Registrar of Voters: 675 Texas St., Room 2600, Fairfield.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday. No weekend voting .
Sonoma County Registrar of Voters: 435 Fiscal Dr., Santa Rosa.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Memo: E-mail Leslie Fulbright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Index Terms: METRO;PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2008;BLACKS;VOTERS;CIVIL RIGHTS;RACIAL DISCRIMINATION;BAY AREA ; Barack Obama;Mary Robinson;Giannina Miranda;Department of Elections ;Amos Brown;James Bryant;Brenda Henry-Kitrell;Jabulani Watson
Record Number: CF13RRIT
Copyright (c) San Francisco Chronicle 2008