Ayanna Alexander, Howard University News Service
WASHINGTON – With the presidential elections a little over a day away, first-time voters are expected to have an impact. According to Pew Research, there are 10.7 million more eligible voters today than there were in the 2012 elections.
In addition to first time voters, African-American voters are also expected to show up to the polls including millennials. However, less than half of African American voters plan to vote for reasons varying from their distrust of Hillary Clinton to their dislike of Donald Trump.
According to the GenForward survey conducted in August 2016, when asked, “How likely are you to vote in the presidential election being held in November?” 43 percent of African-American millennial voters said they “definitely will vote”.
With these numbers in mind, the Color for Change PAC has been hosting ‘Black Battleground State Text-a-Thons’ to engage, educate and register young African-American voters in these states.
These ‘Text-a-Thons’ have been held in Oakland, Calif., New York City, NY, Washington, D.C. and online since October.
At a recent event in late October at the Impact Hub, located in Washington, D.C., the outreach targeted voters in North Carolina, which is said to be one of three battleground states that will determine if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton succeed Barack Obama as the next president.
Color of Change PAC Electoral Communications Director, Jennifer Edwards, said the 'Text-a-Thon' is aimed at protecting the black community by teaching them how to make informed decisions in all elections.
“It’s really about building a support for one another. We’re using this opportunity to protect communities from corrupt organizations. We’re changing the way that organizations engage black voters to make informed voting decisions — not just engaging black voters around the presidential races, but also in local races. We’re focusing on district attorney races and the Senate as well,” Edwards said.
In addition to the presidential election, the events are used to inform voters about local races and other ballot initiatives.
“It’s to give our members an opportunity to learn about important elections such as the presidential election and other efforts that affect the battleground states, particularly North Carolina, but also to make informed decisions that will improve police brutality and other issues that black voters are concerned with,” the Color of Change PAC’s Senior Campaign Director, Scott Roberts said.
Roberts, who started with the PAC one year ago, believes that the 'Text-a-Thon; was a major success.
“Yes, it was a major success. This was our third [Text-a-Thon] in DC and we were able to reach out to over 70,000 voters [at the October 16th event] in North Carolina, which is one of the closest states for the competition in the presidential election,” he said.
“That number is twice as many than in previous 'Text-a-Thons'. We’re building momentum. Folks were able to come out and meet new people and talk to each other about the election. In the other cities they went well above the goal amount of voters reached [75,000]. The week before we had only texted 35,000, so it was successful.”
As far as the goal stood for the October 30th event, the organization surpassed their original goal of 100,000 voters, by reaching 110,000.
For every 'Text-a-Thon', the PAC has volunteers that work directly with voters in an effort to connect with them and their concerns.
Volunteer and Digital Field Organizer, Anay Bickham, who joined the group this year, got involved because this election is very important, not only to her, but to the community.
“I got involved because every election is important and the votes of Black people matter,” she said. “[In] This particular election there are important issues at stake–police violence, a changing economy, the lack of investment in schools and communities are critical issues that impact black people throughout this country. It's important to do whatever needs to be done to make sure Black people vote in this election.”
After polling the group of 89 in attendance, at least 75 percent of them attended for that very same reason.
The non-profit’s staff agree that the 'Text-a-Thons' have resulted in lasting experiences.
According to Edwards, her favorite part is hearing exchanges between the volunteers and the voters.
“It’s definitely hearing the types of conversations that volunteers have with voters,” she explained.
“I always try to stop them and ask how their conversations went. They[voters] don’t know that their local prosecutors are the only ones that can bring charges against corrupt cops. They don’t know that they have to remove them from office. They don’t know when they’re going to be elected. We are texting black voters to make sure that they know that they should get out and vote bad people out [of office],” she said.
For Roberts, the in-person interactions are what fulfill him the most.
“My favorite part is being in person with our members,” he said. “It’s so often that we are a digital forum and we ask them to take action online, we don’t always get to see them in person and let them see us. It builds a deeper relationship and that’s really fulfilling in this project.”
However, for Bickham, working with the volunteers and seeing the community get involved is what makes her happiest.
“Working with other volunteers — it is particularly great seeing other Black people get involved and participate in these Text-a-Thons — this is very volunteer driven and Black focused,” she said.