"I Voted" stickers adorn a ballot stub box during early voting at the Hamilton County Election Commission on Tuesday, July 19, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Chattanooga voters will decide this fall whether the city should adopt Ban the Box policies aimed at helping people with criminal records find jobs.

But people who don't vote forfeit their voice, Chattanooga NAACP officials said last week.

"Some people don't vote because they say the system is going to do what it wants," said Chattanooga Councilman Yusuf Hakeem. "My belief is when you vote, you empower yourself and your community as a whole and the system, or politicians respond to people who vote."

Hakeem stood among local NAACP leaders who held a news conference Thursday to make "an urgent appeal" for all citizens, but especially African-Americans and minorities, to register to vote by Tuesday, the deadline to participate in the November elections.

"If we want to get out of that mode of positive change not taking place, we need to get out and vote," Hakeem said.

Only 7 percent of registered Hamilton County voters participated in the August elections that decided Hamilton County school board representatives and candidates for state representative, said Kelvin Scott, a Hamilton County Election Commission member.

In the District 4 school board race, Tiffanie Robinson, who is white, defeated two-time incumbent George Ricks for a seat held by African-Americans since 1998, a year after Chattanooga and Hamilton County schools merged.

The national and state NAACP targeted Hamilton County have seen a fall-off in voter turnout and are working to make sure that people register and go to the polls.

"We want people to realize that the same energy they showed in the last two presidential elections, it's just as important in this election," said local NAACP Vice President Carolyn Tatum. "If you want to have your voice heard, you need to vote in every election."

Scott encouraged people to check their voting status at the Hamilton County Election Commission office.

"You can be a voter and get purged if you move your address and they don't have an updated address on you. If they send you letters and you don't respond they automatically purge you," he said.

NAACP officials also encourage voters to support the Ban the Box-related amendment on the November 2016 ballot.

The City Council voted 7-1 in December 2015 to remove questions about a person's criminal history from its city government job applications.

But the City Charter still must be amended to change a requirement that city employees must be registered voters. Most people with felony criminal records are excluded from voting.

The proposed charter amendment is on the Nov. 8 ballot under Ordinance No. 13007.

Voting "yes" means future city job applicants must live in Tennessee, but they do not have to be registered to vote.

Ban the Box only applies to city government, not private employers, officials said. Applicants still can be asked about their criminal histories, but at the end of the application process after an employer has had a chance to see more of an applicant's potential for employment.

"In the past when that box is checked, that application goes in the trash," said Hakeem, who worked with the NAACP to promote Ban the Box. "By putting it at the end, it gives an applicant opportunity to express who they are and the interviewer will have a better idea about that person."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.