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Boston nonprofits, candidates launch get-out-the-vote efforts

Nate Homan | 9/3/2014, 11:16 a.m.
As the September 9 primary looms a week away, several nonprofits and candidates are preparing get-out-the-vote efforts to mobilize the ...
The GOTV crew at Sheriff Steve Tompkin’s headquarters in Dudley Square. (Banner Photo) Banner photo

It’s the last Friday night in August and Dillon King, Tatiana Earnest, Shahara Williams, and Xavier Shropshire could have been out with their friends, but are instead canvasing for Suffolk County Sheriff incumbent Steve Tompkins.

The get-out-the-vote project, headed by political activist Cliff Braithwaite, is aimed at training the young volunteers on the basics of a get-out-the-vote effort.

A man asked Shropshire who the candidate was and made it clear that he didn’t want to read a pamphlet on Tompkins. Braithwaite stepped in and cited Tompkins’ reform efforts in the Suffolk jails.

“That’s all I need man,” the man said.

“That’s all it takes,” Braithwaite said. “Bate them with the quote and give them the literature afterwards. Engage them first.”

Braithwaite said he thinks the voter turnout for the Sept. 9 primary in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan could be as low as 12 percent. The GOTV campaign was started specifically to get local young adults active in bringing that percentage up.

Competitive races, like the race for Suffolk County sheriff seat, are widely seen as drivers for voter turnout. The efforts Tompkins’ staff and volunteers are undertaking may well effect greater turnout in Boston’s black and Latino communities, where Tompkins has focused much of his campaign efforts.

Other get-out-the-vote efforts currently underway in Boston’s black community are not tied to any particular candidate. The Boston branch of the NAACP teamed up with MassVOTE this year to kick off the B500 Civic Engagement Initiative aiming to mobilize 10,000 black voters in Boston to participate in the November midterm elections.

MassVOTE’s executive director Cheryl Crawford said that each participant is charged with bringing 20 or more voters to the polls. At present, Crawford said they have over 100 committed participants.

“Voter turnout in Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester are historically low,” Crawford said. “Our mission is to beef up the vote. The mayoral election had less than a 34 percent turnout rate for the entire city. I know things could be different if our people used their power.”

Crawford said that their mission this week is to go door to door distributing information on gubernatorial candidates in a nonpartisan fashion. They intend to educate the voting population while sending elected officials a message that they are watching their legislative records.

Tompkins’ get-out-the-vote campaign kicked off on Friday and led up to the big campaigning event on Monday.

The sun hit hard on Columbus Avenue outside of the Park Plaza Hotel on Labor Day morning, where long lines of campaigners holding signs for Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, Warren Tolman, Sheriff Tompkins, Deb Goldberg, Leland Chung, and Mike Lake.

Tompkins praised the young volunteers for their interest and commitment to his campaign and the democratic process.

“We obviously want kids to stay out of trouble, but we also want them to be civically active in campaigns,” Tompkins said. “They are the future and Cliff was our pied piper in getting them involved.”

Crawford said the efforts of incumbents like Tompkins and nonprofits like MassVOTE can make a substantial difference in voter turnout.

“I think that on any given day, when we can mobilize a large number of people of color to the polls, we’re creating a different conversation locally and hopefully nationwide,” she commented. “We at MassVOTE go about getting information out in a nonpartisan way, and we hope to reach people who care about our communities.”

Crawford said that the B500 program plans to grow each election year, asking for 25 voters per member in the 2015 elections and 30 per participant in 2015.

“Every election counts, especially the ones closest to the ground,” Crawford said. “They affect people’s lives the most. We are going to keep pushing until the B500 is a household name. We’re kicking it off for something big this year and we expect it to grow and grow.”