Nonpartisan groups work to encourage voting

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | 4:45 p.m. CST; updated 8:32 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Adrienne Roncher, left, gets into Jane Whitesides's car after voting at the Missouri Conference Center on Nov. 4, 2008. Whitesides, driving, along with NAACP members Gwyn McKinney and Lily Tinker Fortel, provided rides to the polls for Columbia voters.

COLUMBIA — Leaning out the car window, Dwayne Cox yelled to people sitting on their porches or walking on the sidewalk.

"Did you vote?"

Most often they yelled back, "Yes!"

Volunteers from several nonpartisan organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Grass Roots Organizing, canvassed Columbia residents on Election Day.

Cox, along with Jacqueline Jones and Virginia Law, was part of a group of NAACP volunteers who walked around town knocking on doors and distributing fliers that listed voters' rights and a number to call for questions or a ride to the polls. From about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cox, Jones and Law canvassed an area just south of West Sexton Road and west of North Garth Avenue.   

"No matter who you vote for, just get out and vote," Cox told anyone who would open the door to his knock. Cox noted the Obama campaign had already beat him to most homes, since fliers urging people to vote for Obama were already hanging from the doorknobs. At one point, a plane flew overhead trailing a banner that read "VOTE OBAMA TODAY." There was no evidence of canvassing by the Republican Party. But Cox, who lives outside of city limits toward Fulton, said he regularly receives calls and fliers from McCain's campaign and other Republican organizations.

How effective these volunteers were, however, is uncertain because most people who answered the door had already voted, some as early as 6 a.m.  

"Everybody's saying they voted," Jones said to Cox when they met up again.

"I've never seen anything like it," Cox said.  

Law said the NAACP was trying to cover areas neglected by other groups, but while walking down one side street, the trio ran into Jessica Powers and Walter Bargen, two volunteers for Obama's campaign. The pair was on the second of three rounds in the area. According to Powers, the Obama campaign plans to continue canvassing until the polls close.

Jones said she would canvass as long as her legs would allow.

"This is a really big thing for me," she said. Her family moved to Columbia in the 1960s, and she spent the first six years of her life on Lincoln Drive, near the area she was canvassing.

Cox and Jones are cousins, and their aunt is Mary Ratliff, president of the local NAACP chapter. Cox and Jones both said they have been interested in politics since they were young, thanks to their family's participation in the NAACP. Their parents and grandparents have all been participants in the past, and some marched for civil rights in Missouri in the '60s.

The local NAACP chapter was stationed at Second Baptist Church, starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday. They planned to canvass, provide rides to the polls, feed volunteers and other visitors and watch election coverage on a large-screen TV they set up on one side of the room. A kitchen off the main room was filled with bags of food, and a large crockpot filled with meatballs stood ready on the counter by 10 a.m.

Ratliff said the group was prepared to stay until early Wednesday morning for returns.   

GRO also canvassed neighborhoods, distributed door hangers, provided rides to the polls and made calls to ask if people had voted.  

Jennifer Disla, a fellow with the organization and a coordinator for the day's events, said they were "pretty busy." At 1:30 p.m., the afternoon canvassers were about to go out.

Disla said she couldn't estimate how many people had called for rides, or responded to their calls and knocks, but she said the group intends to keep canvassing until 5 p.m. and making calls until 6:30 p.m.

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