Groups join forces to increase voter turnout in communities of color

The Tennessee Black Voter Project is partnering with several community groups to reverse the state’s worst in nation voter turnout. (photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Fourteen Tennessee community, labor and nonprofit organizations are joining forces to launch a historic statewide drive to register 55,000 voters ahead of the 2018 midterms and reverse the state’s worst-in-the-nation voter-turnout. The effort aims to overcome the institutional barriers that have led to low levels of civic engagement in communities of color throughout the state.

In a push until Election Day, the Tennessee Black Voter Project, comprised of groups with deep experience building relationships and working with communities of color, will register, educate and mobilize Tennesseans across the state to increase civic participation.

“Black Tennesseans have faced extraordinary institutional barriers to voting that have led to entire communities being left out of the democratic process,” said Tequila Johnson, statewide manager of the Tennessee Black Voter Project. “With this first-of-its-kind collaboration, we will generate excitement about voting, register tens of thousands of new voters, and help spark civic engagement for Tennesseans of color statewide.”

The Tennessee Black Voter Project’s statewide voter registration effort comes as community leaders have raised alarms about Tennessee’s dismal voter engagement. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts’ study from 2016, the state has the lowest voter turnout in the country, with only 28.5% of registered voters participating in the 2014 midterms. In the same election, Tennessee ranked 40th in voter registration. An analysis of U.S. Census data by WalletHub found that Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in Black voter turnout.

The Tennessee Black Voter Project includes 14 local community, labor, and nonprofit organizations, including the NAAACP, Urban League, the Tennessee Equity Project and the Equity Alliance.

“Once we took a look at what we could accomplish with our combined resources and talents, joining this coalition was an easy decision,” said Monroe Woods Bolivar, Civic Engagement Committee Chair for the Tennessee Chapter of the NAACP. “We’re ready to harness the unprecedented momentum for racial, educational and economic equity we’re seeing in our churches, schools and communities. People are hungry for change, and they recognize voting is an important first step toward making that change happen.”

The Tennessee Black Voter Project is part of the Proud Voter Challenge to register and mobilize all Tennesseans, including women, veterans and young people. The Proud Voter Challenge is a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition, which aims to equip its more than three-dozen member organizations with the tools and training to execute voter registration and increase voter participation.

Across the state, elected officials and civic leaders, including Rev. James Turner and Rev. Earle Fisher welcomed the effort.

“The lack of civic engagement is a major issue in our state, especially in communities in color,” said Rev. James Turner, pastor at the New Hope Baptist Church in Nashville and president of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship. “Voter registration is the first step to overcoming institutional barriers, engaging the disengaged and increasing civic participation. The Tennessee Black Voter Project is an important piece of the Proud Voter Challenge and exactly what our state needs to promote a culture of active political participation that is vital to our democracy.”