WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For the first time in American history, millions of voters will cast their ballots on Tuesday in an election in which an African-American is the nominee of a major political party, fulfilling the long-held dreams of civil rights veterans.
“I’ve always hoped so and I’ve also worked for this idea,” says 96-year-old Dr. Dorothy Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women. “I think this will help the whole country, people of all backgrounds…I know historically, African-Americans will feel good about it, but, I think everybody across the country will have the realization that there are people in all groups who have the capability to be president.”
That hope, birthed in the race between Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain has translated into massive voter registration numbers nationwide in the contentious and historic race.
“We’re seeing that voting is becoming a true family affair, a true community affair all over this country,” says Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation. ‘We want the people to enjoy the process of making history.”
Campbell says while a 60 percent turnout has been considered good in the past, this year, a record-breaking 70 to 80 percent is expected in some communities. “And African-Americans are going to be leading the way,” she said. “People feel like they are a part of the process. This is part of the definition of what a movement is. People are taking their neighbors to go vote. This movement for a change is also a change in removing apathy and we’ll have to build on that.”
In the close race, election officials are also hopeful that few glitches will occur. “We really are confident that this is going to be a good election,’ says Donetta Davidson, vice chair of the Federal Election Assistance Commission. ‘The election community has really been working very hard, and the election officials, to make sure that this election runs as smoothly as possible,” Davidson says. “Will there be a hick up some place? Possibly. That’s because there’s a human factor in programming this equipment and testing it. Testing is the valuable point. If they do their testing right, they will catch any kind of program they have before Election Day.” Volunteer poll workers are still badly needed, says Davidson.
“Equipment is only half of it. The process is really what insures that everything is going to run smoothly, training the poll workers,” she said. “In some areas they do not have enough poll workers yet…They need even emergency poll workers the morning of election to ship them out to a polling place where somebody got sick or called in and said ‘I’m not going to be there.’
Davidson said a total of two million poll workers are needed “because of the size of this election, the hype of it and the number of people who have registered…A lot of the states and jurisdictions are still looking.” Activists who have already observed long lines say voters must also take certain precautions on their own Nov. 5.
“On election day, the biggest thing that you get prepared for that length of time and celebrate it,” says Campbell. “If you don’t have the ability to take a lot of time off from work, make sure you vote first,’ she said, echoing a new VOTE FIRST campaign enacted by her NCBCP, the National Urban League and the Black Leadership Forum. “And then when you go, make sure you have your ID in case you have any kind of problems. Even when you don’t think you need it, take it anyway.”
Campbell added that everyone should make sure they have the right polling place. And finally, “If you know you’re registered to vote, do not leave that polling place without voting.”
For problems encountered at the polls, Campbell says to call 1-866-OurVote, an election protection hotline that will staff lawyers and other volunteers on Election Day. Davidson says she has one concluding message to voters for Tuesday: “Knowledge is power. If they know what their rights are. Then they have far more power.”