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Final Push is On to Reach WI Black Voters

Nationally, turnout among Black voters was down about 7% in 2016, but a rebound is predicted in 2020.  (Adobe Stock)
Nationally, turnout among Black voters was down about 7% in 2016, but a rebound is predicted in 2020. (Adobe Stock)
October 21, 2020

MILWAUKEE - Political observers say Wisconsin's Black residents have consistently faced voter suppression in multiple forms. The pandemic adds another concern to the 2020 vote - and in Milwaukee, an outreach group is trying to renew voter energy in struggling communities.

The 2016 presidential race was decided by a close margin in Wisconsin, with Donald Trump winning the state. Also that year, voter turnout among Black residents of Milwaukee was down by as much 20%.

Rev. Greg Lewis - executive director of "Souls to the Polls" in Milwaukee - said his group is working to turn that around, while noting that things were a lot different four years ago.

"The churches weren't involved as they are today, and it made a big difference," said Lewis. "And we didn't have an opportunity to do it in 2016 for various reasons - no funds, you know, no resources. People weren't as engaged."

The group includes about 500 faith leaders in the greater Milwaukee area. Lewis said there's more energy this year in the light of the racial reckoning in many U.S. cities, including Kenosha.

Still, Wisconsin is seeing a COVID-19 surge, and Black communities are disproportionately affected. As a result, Lewis said the group is doing its canvassing through phone banks and social media.

This year has also seen several legal decisions in Wisconsin about voting rules and election policy, some of which have been criticized for making it harder to vote in a state that already has a restrictive voter ID law.

Lewis said with community members distrustful of the political system, having faith leaders reach out to them provides renewed hope that their voices can be heard.

"You know, the church is the glue in our community," said Lewis. "And when the churches are rising, the people rise."

Wisconsin court decisions include limiting early voting and not extending an absentee ballot deadline. Republican leaders say these restrictions are meant to prevent fraud and create equal access across the state.

Meanwhile, state leaders say they're better prepared than they were for the April primary, when the pandemic caused a variety of issues at the polls.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI