The Florida Conference, United Methodist Church’s Public Policy & Witness Subcommittee of the Anti-Racism Task Force over the last two weeks has been ramping up the Faithful Voter Strategy. We are working with Faith in Public Life targeting black and brown pastors of United Methodist Churches and asking them to lead their congregations to join the Faithful Voter Pledge. This is not just busyness or trying to make ourselves feel better. This is high-quality organizing.
Here is why this matters and is a proven, effective way to make a difference in the voices of people of color being heard in the election. Historically, communities of color have a lower voter turnout than communities of whiteness. There are systemic racist reasons for that, including the current voter suppression efforts in play to diminish turnout further for the election.
To illustrate this, I created a map of the results of the 2016 General Election for Florida. Below are two maps from Hillsborough County. The first shows a largely black community. I randomly chose to record the percentage of votes for the Democratic Candidate. So the first line is the three letter abbreviation for the county followed by the precinct number. The 2nd line is the % of votes (D) from that precinct that were for the Democratic candidate for President. The 3rd line is the % of turnout (T) of registered voters for that precinct. And finally the last line is the number of ballots cast (B) in that precinct.
This neighborhood is just South of Busch Gardens and North of Ybor City. Notice the percentage turnout (T) in these precincts which is between 53 and 61%. As the precincts become whiter, the percentage turnout increases.
Here is a map of an almost all white community in Hillsborough County:
This neighborhood is what is called South Tampa. That line going across the top of the map is Kennedy Blvd. I grew up in Precinct 133. Again, notice the percentage turnout (T) runs from the mid 70s to the mid 80s.
This racial inequity is a 20% difference in the voices of black people being “heard” in the election compared to the voices of white people. There are lots of reasons for it. Poverty makes getting things done (like voting) harder. Mobility, which is higher in communities of color, means a higher percentage of people are focused on packing up or unpacking rather than voting. And their former precinct is now far away. When one doesn’t feel that your voice really matters, a why-bother attitude can creep in. Tragically, there are also intentional efforts to suppress the vote in all kinds of ways, especially this year.
The scope of systemic racism and its effect on turnout is evident across our entire Conference and beyond. This is why we are focused on reaching out to clergy of color throughout the Conference. There are almost 110 United Methodist congregations of color in the Florida Conference and we are reaching out to everyone of them.
This effort is a high-touch effort, meaning it is direct communication, by phone calls or text. We are not using email except to follow up with sending resources. This is not the only effort going on and I encourage you to look at how you can make a difference.
It is 41 days to the General Election! How are you going to spend your time over the next seven weeks?
P.S. If you want to see the entire state in an interactive map, go here: http://bit.ly/Clarkes2016FloridaGeneralElectionResults. If you want to see the precinct details, you have to zoom in on the part of the state you want to examine.