Groups work to lure more people to polls
Voter participation in the United States has been in a long decline.
If you go
WHAT: Missing Voter training
WHEN: 7-9 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Morris Brown AME Church, 13 Morris St., Charleston
The S.C. Progressive Network offers regular voter registration training in conjunction with local organizations. Sessions will be held in Columbia on Tuesday and in Greenville on Aug. 21. For more information or to set up a training session, call 803-808-3384 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Unity Festival WHEN: 5-9 p.m. Saturday WHERE: New Covenant Church of God, 7363 Stall Road, North Charleston COST: Free
In 1964, a year after the assassination of President Kennedy, nearly 96 percent of registered voters went to the polls (62 percent of the population), electing Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater by a big margin, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
In 2000, just 67.4 percent of registered voters (49 percent of the population) participated in the presidential election pitting George W. Bush against Al Gore.
The South Carolina Progressive Network hopes the trend will be reversed this year. The group continues its Missing Voter Project this month, sponsoring four voter registration training sessions in partnership with branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the South Carolina Voter Education Project.
On Thursday, organizers will hold a two-hour session, from 7-9 p.m., at Morris Brown AME Church on Morris Street in downtown Charleston to instruct participants on using new tools and strategies for registration drives.
"I can't tell someone that just registering and voting is going to change their life," said S.C. Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey. "The system itself is broken. Due to the creation of 'safe' districts for incumbent legislators, we have the least competitive legislative races in the nation, with most seats being uncontested. And the sad reality is that 98 percent of the candidates who spend the most money are the ones who win."
Bursey said one of the goals of the Missing Voter Project is to re-enfranchise unregistered people who have given up on the system.
"We need to build a base of support, a movement for social justice, that politicians will have to respect," Bursey said. "We are registering people to vote, not to support a particular candidate, but to become part of the movement that will have the power to actualize our values."
The Rev. Joe Darby, pastor of Morris Brown AME Church, said he has known Bursey for decades and has worked in tandem with the Progressive Network to get people registered to vote.
"What always horrifies me is that no matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, there is a relatively small number of people who actually elect our public servants," Darby said.
The AME Church takes voter participation seriously, requiring its congregations to report the number of registered members, he said. About 88 percent of Morris Brown's members are registered to vote.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, said she is working with the Latino community to get out the vote.
The Unity Festival, a back-to-school event from 5-9 p.m. at New Covenant Church of God in North Charleston on Saturday, will offer school supplies, activities and information on voter registration, Scott said.
NAACP youth group members will target high school seniors, at the event and in the community, who will be 18 before Election Day in November, she said.
WHO MAY VOTE
To be eligible to register in South Carolina you must:
-- Be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 on or before the next election.
-- Be a resident of South Carolina.
-- Not be under a court order declaring you mentally incompetent.
-- Not be in prison because of conviction of a crime.
-- Have never been convicted of a felony or an offense against election laws.
-- Have served the entire sentence if previously convicted of a crime, including probation or parole, or have received a pardon for the conviction.
You must be registered at least 30 days before any election in order to vote in that election.
Registration by mail applications must be postmarked at least 30 days before that particular election to be eligible.
You can register in person at their county board of voter registration or you can download a form from scvotes.org, complete it, and mail it to the county board of voter registration.