After disappointing voter turnout in Springfield last November, and concerns about discrimination during the primary election in September, community organizers are starting the get-out-the-vote efforts early this year.
The effort begins in earnest on Wednesday, over at the Springfield Public Library's Pine Point Branch. Aron Goldman, executive director of the Springfield Institute says he and others will discuss the importance of voting and past trends in the city. Last year, the mayoral and city council elections in November brought just 22% of registered Springfield voters to the polls, a number that disappointed Goldman.
"What you've got is about twice that in predominantly white wards and half that in minority wards."
Goldman points out that Springfield's minority wards have many eligible but unregistered voters.
"They're completely without a voice. That kind of unequal democracy, frankly, makes it look like the civil rights movement never happened."
Turnout isn't the only problem on Goldman's mind. Last fall a Springfield City Councilor, the ACLU and the NAACP summoned US Department of Justice poll monitors to the city on voting day after they claimed that on primary day, polls had a lack of Spanish-speaking staff, incomplete lists of registered voters and incorrect voting hours posted in some places. The DOJ sent staff but has yet to release their findings. And November's elections came just a few days after a major snowstorm hit the city, which was also blamed for lowering voter turnout.
Susan Roche, a community organizer in Springfield, will also be at the "Voting for the Future" event Wednesday night. She says there's a need to educate residents on the registration process, dates, polling locations, who's on the ballot and what issues are at stake.
"To make them more interested in taking control of their government and the importance of voting as a way to do that."
Roche and Goldman are hoping to attract a large crowd of Springfield residents – voters and those who haven't always made it to the polls.