Local Press Reports Strong Turnout
Voters in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District arrived at the polls today to find a new ally on site: "Election Protection." At polling places in 17 precincts monitored by People For the American Way Foundation, volunteers were on hand to inform voters about their rights and to make sure that those rights were honored when they went inside to cast their ballots (partner organizations did the same thing in 49 additional precincts).
Volunteers spent the three days leading up to the election going door-to-door, phone banking, and leafleting throughout the Petersburg community and elsewhere in the 4th District, distributing a 9-point Voters’ Bill of Rights and urging voters to exercise those rights in today’s special congressional election. Backing up these efforts were radio and newspaper ads alerting voters to the special election and urging citizens to vote.
The inspiration for the project grew directly out of the aftermath of the November 7 national elections, when countless stories of voting irregularities surfaced all over the country, including in Virginia.
"After November 7, we realized how crucially important it is to make sure that voters know about their rights and can exercise them on the spot on election day," said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way Foundation. "The right to vote is just words on paper if people can be unjustly or arbitrarily turned away."
While Election Protection volunteers remained busy throughout the day assisting voters, the election seemed to have run relatively smoothly. The intensive education campaign was well received in the community, with volunteers reporting today that many voters had gone out of their way to thank them for helping to make a real difference in the way the elections were run.
"We set out to educate voters, and we ended up educating election officials at the same time," said Neas. "This project truly shows the power that information has when we put it in the hands of the people."
In contrast to the statewide primary elections held last week, when turnout was reported at a dismal four percent, news media in the 4th District have reported brisk business at area polling places today, with some early afternoon estimates running around 25%.
The Election Protection project was created by the nonpartisan People For the American Way Foundation and was carried out in partnership with a number of other national and local civil and voting rights organizations. It is the second prong of a two-part PFAWF effort pairing traditional get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activity with massive voter education and direct voter assistance to help assure that attempts to vote are not thwarted at the polls.
Partnering with PFAWF in various aspects of this effort are: the NAACP National Voter Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Together with People For the American Way Foundation, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund spearheaded the effort to provide legal advice and assistance to voters who require such help in order to vote.
The on-site Election Protection activities focused primarily on Petersburg and other areas in the district with the highest percentage of African American voters, who have traditionally been underrepresented at the polls and more likely than other voters to suffer disenfranchisement. (Virginia is one of the states covered by the federal Voting Rights Act because of a history of disenfranchising African American citizens.)
In the three-day lead-up to the special election and on election day, itself, PFAWF and its partner organizations carried out a massive education effort to alert voters to the special election and inform them of their voting rights, as well as protecting their rights at the polls.
Over the weekend, volunteers hung reminders about the election and the Voters’ Bill of Rights on 25,000 doorknobs in Petersburg and Lawrenceville.
$65,000 worth of radio ads were broadcast through election day district-wide over stations that serve the African American community.
Nearly 21,000 voters received live phone calls reminding them to go to the polls on Tuesday.
On the Sunday before the special election, a network of more than 20 African American ministers and churches distributed fliers urging their congregations to "Get your souls to the polls." The same message is featured on 5,000 signs displayed in stores, churches, and homes.
The day before the election, full-page ads featuring the Voters’ Bill of Rights and a reminder to vote appeared in the the Hopewell News and the Progress-Index, which serve readers in Petersburg and the surrounding area.
Teams of Election Protection monitors were stationed at polling sites on election day, backed up by access to a team of 25 volunteer lawyers via a toll-free election day hotline.