ID law sparks clergy to lead voting drive in Chattanooga

ID law sparks clergy to lead voting drive in Chattanooga

February 13th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Chandra Wilson asks a question during a meeting at New Monumental Baptist Church in Chattanooga on Thursday night to discuss the logistics of a voter I.D. march.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE

What: Super Saturday Early Voting registration and get-out-the-vote drive

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Begin at Greater Tucker Baptist Church on North Moore Road, march to Brainerd Recreation Center

Why: To exercise the right to vote and promote early voting


KEY DATES

• Feb. 15-28: Early voting for presidential preference primary

• March 3: Last Saturday to get free photo ID at Driver Service Centers, 6502 Bonny Oaks Drive and 4873 Dayton Blvd., before the primary election. The Hamilton County Clerk's Office will also affix pictures on non-photo driver's licenses until March 12. For transportation contact Chandra Wilson at 698-3317.

• March 6: Primary election


MORE INFORMATION

For questions about voting contact Chandra Wilson at 698-3317 or the Hamilton County Election Commission at 493-5100, or visit elect.hamiltontn.gov.

Nearly two dozen ministers from different denominations are launching a local voter empowerment movement in Chattanooga to make sure no person who is eligible and wants to vote is denied the right.

"Under no means whatsoever will the vote be held back," said the Rev. Kenneth Love, pastor of St. Paul AME Church and executive director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

The ministers are among hundreds of black clergy nationally who are working to make sure all eligible members in their congregations and communities are registered to vote and have the proper identification to do so.

The movement comes as a result of new voter identification laws enacted in a number of states in the last two years. In January, Tennessee joined Georgia and other states with stricter voter ID requirements. In all, 15 states are expected to have photo ID laws in place by the November elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"We want to send out notice to the elected officials and the powers that be. We want to let them know that we are concerned, we vote and we care about what's going on in this community," said the Rev. Jeffrey Wilson, pastor of New United Missionary Baptist Church and District 5 school board member.

The theme of the yearlong voter movement is Still in Crisis, a reference to the civil rights struggle.

As ministers led marches for voting rights in the 1960s, so they are leading the fight to maintain those rights in 2012, said Love.

GETTING STARTED

From January through the presidential election in November, the ministers will organize marches, host voter registration drives and offer transportation to the polls.

The first march is scheduled after a church service and rally at Greater Tucker Baptist Church on Saturday. Ministers expect at least 500 participants to march to the Brainerd Recreation Center, where they will cast their ballots during early voting in the March primary. Clergy also led a voter registration and participation drive in 2008 when Barack Obama ran for president, said Chandra Wilson, voter empowerment coordinator for New Monumental Baptist Church.

"We have to be careful that we don't let up," said the Rev. Paul McDaniel, pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church. "We don't have the hype that we had in 2008, so we have to do more in stimulation on the local level."

Tennessee's voter ID law was passed last year by the Republican-led General Assembly, with proponents saying it was necessary to combat voter fraud. But Democrats say the measure is intended to discourage the elderly, the poor, minorities and students from voting.

The law requires that registered voters show government-issued photo identification to vote. Student identification cards from state universities are not acceptable, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Previously, voters could use a voter registration card or any government-issued identification.

Some 625,000 people in Tennessee do not have government-issued identification, according to the NAACP. Only about 12,000 have received government IDs since the law was implemented. In Hamilton County, an estimated 7,000 people have driver's licenses with no picture on them, as allowed by state law.

Unless they are able to get a photo ID, they will not be allowed to vote, said Joe Rowe, vice president of the local NAACP.

Rowe said the NAACP gets its numbers from the Voter Activation Network, the database used by the Democratic and Republican parties to obtain voter information.

GOING STATEWIDE

He developed the plan first for local ministers to promote voter registration and participation and is now presenting it to ministers across the state. So far 42 adult branches and 22 youth and college branches of the NAACP across the state are implementing the voter registration and participation plan, said Rowe.

He and other members of the NAACP said they also plan to knock on doors of eligible voters who aren't registered to vote and offer to register them.

Ministers are appointing voter empowerment coordinators who will be responsible for making sure that each church member who is eligible to vote is also registered. And ministers encourage members to make sure their family members and friends are registered to vote.

"The government is not an entity that operates on its own," Rowe said. "The government should always be the community's voice. When that occurs people will feel connected to the vote that they make."