The Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity, the NAACP, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER) and the Evening Baptist Ministers Conference presented a united front working to ensure that not only people are able to get to the polls on Election Day, but that they are able to vote without encountering any harassment or intimidation.
“Clergy across the city are committed to this,” said the Rev. Jay Broadnax, President, Black Clergy & Vicinity. “We are all committed to ensure people are able to get to the polls and engage in [voting].” Noting the ongoing SEPTA strike and the possibility of it leaving people without transportation on Election Day, Broadax added that “we want to encourage every pastor to do everything they can to get the most people out to the polls on Nov. 8. We’ve challenged our members to ensure 100 percent voter participation and to make personal vehicles and church vehicles available to everybody that needs a ride to the polls.”
Joe Certaine, director of the O.V. Catto Initiative, an effort in 16 counties throughout the state to protect voters rights, said volunteers and attorneys that have gone through updated election law training are prepared to address any voter complaints and irregularities on Election Day.
“We do not intend to allow anybody to engage in voter suppression at the polling place,” he said. “So people of color can go to the polls and vote without fear of any activity that can be construed as voter suppression, we have set up staging areas to be ale to observe the vote, pay attention to what’s going on and respond to complaints.”
Certaine said that if voters have a complaint or want to report an irregularity, they can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
“Once a call or complaint comes in, it is routed to one of our command centers, then routed to our ward room and we send it to a staging area — that puts our volunteers and attorneys closest to the complaint,” said Certaine. A staging area, he explained, is a location “where attorneys and volunteers are assigned and then have a specific number of wards they respond to.”
Noting instances of voters being accosted on the way to vote, Certaine added that voters need to know “they have the right to vote … Nobody has the right to challenge them except the judge of elections in the polling place. If their name is not on the registration list, they can be challenged.” Certaine advised that “first-time voters need to present identification only if it is their first time voting or first time voting in that precinct. After that, they never have to do that again.”
Pointing out the climate of this year’s presidential election and the policies at stake, the ministers encouraged people to vote.
“The climate has been set. Are you going to have a country that is hateful or are you going to have country that is loving,” said the Rev. Jeremiah W. Cousins, Evening Baptist Ministers Conference member. “We are going to have to come together, whether you have to carpool, run, walk, take a boat or a train. The call has gone out. The warning shot has been fired.”
The Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER organizer, pushed millennials to vote, stating that they are the “most affected people of this election. If we are going to … address issues of poverty, these elections are turning points. There are forces out there fighting hard to make sure they don’t vote. This is central for the next 20, 30, 40 years of their life.” Holston added that other issues at stake with the election are stop-and-frisk, and the next Supreme Court justice selection.
Broadnax concluded the press conference with a push for voters to pay attention to the other elections, aside from the presidential one.
“This election is not just about up the ballot. The is about so much more. We need to make sure our voices are heard because when our voices are silent, others make decisions for us.”