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Politics / Issues
What you need to know about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

At Souls To The Polls, Black Voters Have Concerns, But Also A Sense Of Urgency

Five people stand in front of tent wearing Souls to the Polls t-shirts
Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
A Souls to the Polls event Saturday at Sarasota urged Black voters to turn out.

For years, Souls to The Polls events have aimed to boost black voter turnout. Some say this year feels different.

On the sidelines of a Sarasota youth football game Saturday, 17-year-old Tianna Harris helped staff a Souls to the Polls booth, encouraging people to head to the polls on Tuesday, or drop off mail-in ballots for the presidential election.

“I definitely do believe that voting is very important and since I am not yet of age, I want to do everything I can to make sure minority voices are heard,” said Harris, who attends Booker High.

Four years ago, Black voter turnout fell for the first time in 20 years, and was 56.9% nationwide. When President Barack Obama won a second term in 2012, it was a record high 66.6%, according to Pew Research.

Keith Dubose, a Sarasota lawyer, said the 2016 election, in which President Donald Trump defeated Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, had "a different feeling. It was kind of politics at its best more than social justice, social equality, economics.”

Now, Dubose said the stakes seem higher.

"I'm definitely concerned about voter turnout just with the pandemic, and also threats about violence with people going to the polls," said Dubose.

He added that despite it all, he feels more enthusiasm for voting than before from people in the community.

“I see people encouraged about voting, just more spirited about voting. It’s more of a sense of urgency,” he said.

Black voters historically face a number of obstacles. Research shows that black and Hispanic ballots are more likely to be rejected than ballots cast by white voters.

The coronavirus has also hit Black and Brown communities particularly hard, making the act of going to the polls more dangerous, especially for those who are older or may have health issues.

Gwendolyn Sermon says says she's been helping get out the vote through her church, her sorority Delta Sigma Theta, and the local NAACP.

“My church, Bethel CME in Sarasota, what we have been doing is communicating with the older members of the church, helping them out making sure they know how to fill out the ballot, making sure it is signed correctly and dropping it off for them,” Sermon said.

Sermon, Dubose and others volunteers at Souls to the Polls this year said they just want people to cast a ballot.

"Realize their vote does matter. Every vote does count," said Dubose.

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