Non-voters are key to November elections

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—A. Peter Bailey is an Afrocentric journalist, author, lecturer, college professor and activist. Editor’s Note: November 5 will be one of the most important non-presidential elections in recent years as Democrats and Republicans compete fiercely to see which party will control the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Although White voters outnumber African Americans, it has been proven time and again that African American voters can tilt the outcome of any close election. Will Blacks turn out in significant numbers? That is a question being debated as hotly as which party will emerge victorious after the ballots are counted. This is the first of a four-part special NNPA NorthStar Investigative Report examining Black voter attitudes and what’s at stake on Election Day

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—A. Peter Bailey is an Afrocentric journalist, author, lecturer, college professor and activist. He cares deeply about national and international issues—but not enough to vote. He has voted only once in the past 25 years and that was for The Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984.

“Some people think they have to vote. But, I believe that if there is not a candidate I cannot support, then I don’t vote,” says Bailey. In addition to supporting Jackson, he voted for Percy Sutton, a Black civil rights lawyer and Harlem entrepreneur, in the 1977 New York City mayoral race.

At a time when affirmative action is under assault, President Bush is trying to pack the federal courts with Right-wing ideologues, and outspoken Black politicians are coming under increasing attack, to have a person as politically enlightened as Bailey adamantly refusing to vote presents a serious challenge for political organizers, who already face an uphill struggle to increase Black voter turnout.

More than 8.7 million voting-age Black people were not registered during the 2000 presidential election. Another 2.4 million were registered, but did not go to the polls. On the other hand, 12.9 million cast ballots. This means the number of Blacks who refused to register or go to the polls was almost equal to the number who voted.

Looked at another way, those numbers are even more distressing: more than 90 percent of African Americans usually vote for the Democratic nominee for president. Had those who were registered and stayed home taken a different tact or those eligible to vote had actually registered and voted, Al Gore would be president today instead of George W. Bush.

To many organizers, that’s reason enough to vote. However, that argument has not changed the minds of people like Bailey, who steadfastly defends his decision to stay home.

“A conscious non-vote is a political act,” says Bailey. “It is not an act of ignorance. It is not an act of apathy. It is a conscious decision that the system has not provided me with the type of people who I believe are going to make the changes I believe are necessary in order for everything to be best done for myself, my family and my people.”

Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and chairman of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, shares Bailey’s view that Black people would be best served by the creation of an independent Black political party. Until then, however, he does not believe that Blacks should sit it out on Election Day.

“It’s a bad idea,” he says. “What we really need is for Black folks to vote. Because too many Black people don’t see a relationship between their vote and any change in their lives; a lot of people have been turned-off by the process. But, on the other hand, if we don’t vote, we yield the field to the other side. We yield the field particularly to the Right-wing conservative.”

The idea that some African Americans are even debating the need to vote comes as a surprise to many, considering all it took to get access to the ballot.

October 14, 2002
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