Howard Students Make Moves to Help Columbus Voters

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After the polls closed Tuesdayevening, Cordenay Franklin prayed in the sanctuary of Lord of LifeChurch. After serving as a volunteer poll monitor at a recreationcenter and an elementary school, she had spent more than six hoursin the rain, wind and fall chill—all in the name of democracy.Her eyes had seen some unbelievable tactics to keep minorities fromparticipating in the political process.

For Franklin, 19, praying was the only thing leftto do.

She had seen partisan challengers telleligible voters it was required that their utility bills be paid tovote. They also claimed voters could not wear T-shirts with sloganssuch as, “Vote or Die” because the wearer would “insinuate a riot.”Some even asked voters to reveal personal information concerningtheir criminal record.

Franklin, a sophomore majoring in criminaljustice, was one of about 54 Howard University students whotraveled Monday to Columbus to participate in the ElectionProtection campaign sponsored by People for the American Way, anon-partisan organization.

Clad in black and white T-shirts that read”You Have the Right to Vote,” the students worked as poll monitorsand canvassed neighborhoods to get registered voters to the pollsby any means necessary. They also worked with legal volunteers andassisted voters in filing official complaints.

Even though the President won Ohio in the 2000election by nearly four percentage points, he lost 232,000 jobs forthe state’s employees, including 167,000 in the manufacturingsector, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

For the past month, Ohio had been pegged asthe next Florida with reports that 85,000 Republican recruits wouldstorm the polls to challenge the eligibility of voters. Tuesday’selection broke national records as nearly 120 million voters (60percent of those eligible) cast a ballot, the highest number since1968, according to the Associated Press. In Ohio, there were 92,000newly registered voters and about 5.5 million cast a ballot for theelection.

The students said they sacrificed two days ofclasses, multiple hours of sleep and appointments with groupmembers for projects or a shift at their part-time jobs. Most ofthe participants said their civic duty and faith in the democraticprocess compelled them to get on the bus.

“Since I’m from Columbus, Ohio, I felt evenmore responsibility to go and ensure the fair election of the nextpresident of the United States,” said Conrad Woody, a seniorpolitical science major and president of the Howard UniversityStudent Association. Woody said though he is currently balancing 15credit hours, his student leadership position and his social life,the trip was worth it. “It was a lot of work, but I would do itagain.”

Upon their departure, Ohio’s 20 electoralvotes were still in hanging in the balance, but it was predictedthat Bush had won them with 51 percent of the votes compared toKerry’s 49 percent. Even when the students returned, they continuedto pause their lives to hear the news of Kerry conceding toBush.

“I missed my first two classes to see theresults. I wasn’t gonna go to class until I saw the results,” saidAeja Washington, a junior public relations major. As for Bush’svictory, she said, “I guess I was kinda expecting it.”

Franklin heard the results of the electionover the radio Wednesday morning too.

“It made me feel that our efforts were invain. It made me wonder how many minorities will vote next time,”Franklin said. But now her thoughts have changed from her initialreaction. “He [Kerry] made a wise decision because we all haveto unite at this time.”

Click Below forSlideshow

       BlackCollegeView at Ohio Polls

All photos were taken byCourtney K. Wade at Franklin County polling sites in Columbus,Ohio, on November 2, 2004.