Monday, October 11, 2004

NYTimes > Campaign 2004 > Among Black Voters, a Fervor to Make Their Ballots Count

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Voters: Among Black Voters, a Fervor to Make Their Ballots Count:
"No matter whom she ends up choosing - maybe Senator John Kerry, said Mrs. Charlotte Marshall, or perhaps President Bush, to untangle his Iraqi knot - she will work Election Day as a poll watcher. 'What happened in 2000 got me into it,' she said."

Like Mrs. Marshall, many African-Americans are speaking about the fundamental act of voting this year with rekindled fervor, throwing a high-wattage backlight behind the issues and personalities of the campaign. The disqualified ballots, excluded voters and contentious ending of the 2000 election - when black precincts in Florida had votes rejected at three times the rate of white precincts - have formed a galvanizing memory. "We feel betrayed," said Rod Owens, 22, a student at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. "We're looking for revenge."

Mr. Owens, active in a young Democrats group on his campus, put the matter more bluntly than most, but the determination to vote and make it count appears to cross boundaries of age, class and geography. African-Americans, for four decades the most reliable reservoir of Democratic support in presidential elections, now are also part of a torrent of new voter registrations in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and elsewhere.

[Aware of how essential black voters' turnout is for his campaign, Mr. Kerry attended services yesterday at two black churches in Florida. With the Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton at his side, he told worshipers at his second stop, a Baptist church in Miami, that he had a team of lawyers, led by African-Americans, poised to respond to any charges of disenfranchisement. "We have an unfinished march in this nation," he said, invoking the civil rights struggle.]

Here in Jacksonville, as the Oct. 4 registration deadline approached, new voters in black neighborhoods were signing up at a pace two-thirds faster than in 2000. In Philadelphia, election officials report the greatest surge of registrations in 21 years, resulting in more than 70,000 new voters added to the rolls since April, with growth heaviest in African-American sections. In Ohio, new registrations in Democratic strongholds, many of them African-American areas, have increased 250 percent over 2000.

In interviews here in north Florida, in southwest Philadelphia and elsewhere, at bus stops, on porches, in sleek law offices, some two dozen African-American voters spoke about the broad band of issues that define their personal stakes in this campaign: the war in Iraq and what it means to a son or grandson in the military; the economy and how it shapes a bricklayer's week; the tax code and its effect on an independent businessman's prospects; and the seats of aging Supreme Court justices, watched warily by a generation of business executives, many of whom began their climb to prosperity in a society freshly opened by the federal bench.

"I have a son with the military, in a combat-ready unit," Mrs. Marshall said. "I'm scared to death every day. I'm disappointed about the Bush program. I was all for it when he said we were going to fight terror. But they know for a fact where that 9/11 attack originated, and it wasn't Iraq. If they had concentrated all that effort in Afghanistan, maybe by now they would have him, that other fool" - meaning Osama bin Laden.

The voters interviewed - habitual Democrats, for the most part - spoke about John Kerry with polite reserve, as if he were a distant cousin, more rumor, so far, than actual family relation. "I guess he's all right, but he's no Bill Clinton, downright homey-like," said Eddie West, a maintenance worker with the Salvation Army in Jacksonville.

Black voter participation has been increasing in recent presidential elections, and 57 percent of eligible black voters turned out in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. In 2000, Mr. Bush received one vote from African-Americans for every nine cast for Al Gore, the lowest share for any Republican since 1964, according to exit polls.

Both Mr. Bush and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, have pledged to do better, and Republican officials are emphasizing home ownership and business opportunities before black audiences.

While both parties maintain they hope for a heavy vote from African-Americans, Democrats say history shows that would be to their benefit.

Over the last 15 years or so, a rising black middle class has dispersed from cities into integrated suburbs, creating a demand for political messages that reflect the diverse circumstances of African-Americans.

During a town hall meeting with Mr. Kerry in Jacksonville last month, Robert and Anna Lee sat impassively in the rear, offering mild applause, not rising to join ovations. Even so, both Lees said they had no reluctance about supporting Mr. Kerry, who is seen by some as stiff and distant.

"Would I want to go have coffee with him?" Mr. Lee said, shrugging. "That kind of thing doesn't bother me. I'm just not satisfied where I see us going on the international scene."

The Lees moved to Florida from Michigan after Mr. Lee retired from the Internal Revenue Service. Mrs. Lee said she was astounded by Florida's problems in the 2000 election. "It seemed to have affected our people more," she said.

When Mr. Kerry took questions, the Rev. James Sampson, a Baptist minister, spoke of what many in his community perceived to be a feeble effort in north Florida by Mr. Gore's camp in the recount of 2000. About 27,000 votes were disqualified in Duval County, many from black neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

"Will you fight till every vote in Florida is counted?" Mr. Sampson asked.

"I will fight," Mr. Kerry said, "until the last dog dies." The crowd roared.…
con·cept: NYTimes > Campaign 2004 > Among Black Voters, a Fervor to Make Their Ballots Count