More than 3,000 people have registered to vote in Ferguson, Mo., since the death of Michael Brown — a surge in interest that may mean the city of 21,000 people is ready for a change.
Since a white police officer shot the unarmed black 18-year-old on Aug. 9, voter registration booths and cards have popped up alongside protests in the city and surrounding neighborhoods. The result: 4,839 people in St. Louis County have registered to vote since the shooting; 3,287 of them live in Ferguson.
The city’s population is two-thirds African American; five of its six city council members are white, as is its mayor. The St. Louis County Election Board does not record the races of eligible voters, but many believe the increase is a sign that Brown’s death has spurred renewed interest in politics and might mean more blacks will vote in the upcoming election.
“It’s a great move when people come out and register in mass like that,” said Anthony Bell, St. Louis 3rd Ward committeeman. “They are sending a signal that we want a change. It doesn’t give justice to the Michael Brown family, but it will in the future give justice to how the administration is run in a local municipality like Ferguson.”
The biggest issue on the ballot Nov. 4 will be the race for county executive of St. Louis County between Republican State Rep. Rick Stream and County Councilman Steve Stenger, a Democrat.
Bell began registering people two days after Brown was shot. He was at Canfield Green Apartments shortly after the teen was killed and watched as his body lay in the street for hours. The experience motivated him to lead a protest the next day and start registering people. He started with a clipboard and later set up a booth a few blocks from the shooting scene.
Rita Days, St. Louis County director of elections, said her office has been fielding calls from individuals and groups asking how to register people to vote. The NAACP, League of Women Voters, sororities and fraternities have taken classes. Others have picked up handfuls of registration cards to encourage people to mail in their registrations.
Registering more than 3,000 people in a month and a half is a significant accomplishment, Days said. She added that the real test will be how many people show up to the polls.
Jonathan Clarke, a writer and columnist for Politics in Color and a longtime St. Louis resident, agrees. “This represents a wake up call,” he said. “The problem so far, hasn’t been, as far as I understand, registration so much as it has been turnout.”
Days said her office, as well as interested organizations, have long stressed the importance of voting to community members. Despite many efforts though, there has been little interest in past elections. During local elections in April, just 1,484 of the 12,096 registered voters in Ferguson cast ballots.
“The apathy regarding voters is rampant in this county,” she said. “I mean if we get 10 or 15 (percent of registered voters to vote), that’s good.”
This time, demonstrators are vowing it will be different.
Community leaders plan to mobilize voters during the upcoming election and ensure that people make it to the polls, said Anthony Shahid, one of the most visible activists who has been protesting in Ferguson since Brown’s death. He hopes volunteers from other cities will help.
“We want to have a big rally,” Shahid said. “You have to get people excited to make people understand that this is history. And it is history — no different than when President Obama came into office.”
For Shahid, the election will test whether anger over Brown’s death will translate into long-term political change.
Keeping up the energy and momentum in driving people to vote is crucial, said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He expects groups to recruit candidates and to develop strategies to get people to the polls.
For Eric Davis, Brown’s cousin, the election could lead to needed change in local government.
“There is little to no representation of African Americans,” Davis said. “It’s basically a government that is Caucasian that is ruling over a class of African Americans. It’s almost as if it’s apartheid in some ways.”
To vote in the Nov. 4 election, a voter must be registered by Wednesday.
Anthony Gray, an attorney for Michael Brown’s family, said supporters of Michael Brown have the power to make Ferguson’s political leadership more diverse and to force officials to take into account the concerns of black residents.
“It could completely change the political landscape, the power structure, the decision making,” Gray said. “The service to the African American community would almost quadruple because they would be viewed as a credible and legitimate voting block.”
article by Yamiche Alcindor via usatoday.com