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Ahead of early voting, activists encourage Black and minority turnout, offer rides to new voting sites due to COVID-19

Delegate Shaneka Henson, (center) uses a bullhorn during the march. More than 150 people attending a Black Lives Matter march in Deale Saturday. As part of the event, community organizers encouraged participants to "march to the polls" for early voting Monday
Delegate Shaneka Henson, (center) uses a bullhorn during the march. More than 150 people attending a Black Lives Matter march in Deale Saturday. As part of the event, community organizers encouraged participants to "march to the polls" for early voting Monday (Lilly Price)

Anne Arundel County’s decision to contract the number of polling sites presents a greater challenge for lower-income and minority communities that have less access to reliable transportation and often more distance to travel when voting. But activists are doing what they can to get voters to the polls despite the circumstances.

Turnout in the 2020 election is expected to reach record highs as millions of Americans have already cast early ballots in the run-up to Election Day. In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus but still hold in-person voting, Anne Arundel County was approved for seven early-voting sites and 32 voting centers in lieu of 190 polling places.

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To mobilize Black and minority voter turnout, various community groups are providing transportation to the polls starting Monday — the first day of early voting — through Nov. 3. Black and minority turnout was the pillar of conversation at a Black Lives Matter march in Deale Saturday.

“We need you to participate in one more march,” local activist Carl Snowden said at a Black Lives Matter rally in Deale. "Martin Luther King Jr. once said ‘The greatest march that an American can participate in a democracy is the march to the ballot box.’”

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Local election director for Anne Arundel County, Joe Torre, expects around 80% of registered voters to participate in the 2020 election. About 79% of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2008 election of former President Barack Obama.

United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County will provide rides to the polls across the county starting Monday for residents who want to vote early and through Election Day. The “Souls to the Polls” effort is part of a national push to increase voter turnout. It’s powered by countywide volunteers from churches and nonprofit community groups who are organizing shuttles using church vans.

County residents can contact UBC’s transportation hotline at 410-870-4811 or email unitedblacklergyaac@gmail.com to schedule a ride to the polls. Requests for transportation should be made 24 hours in advance, Same day requests can be submitted but will not be guaranteed.

Caucus of African American Leaders of Anne Arundel County is preparing transportation, helping to register incarcerated residents awaiting trial and providing legal questions to any residents that run into problems casting their ballot, Snowden said. Transportation can be arranged by calling 410-269-1524.

James Appel, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee, said the committee is encouraging Black and minority residents by email to turnout and vote.

Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer this summer, Anne Arundel County has seen local Black Lives Matter marches in Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Crofton, Pasadena and Shady Side. Saturday’s multi-race, multi-generational Black Lives Matter rally in Deale was considered by organizers as one of the most important in the county.

“It shows that change is coming,” Snowden said. "This would have been unheard of 20 years ago, 30 years ago, nobody would have been expected a Black Lives Matter (march) in Deale, Maryland. Not because we’ve got the largest turnout, but the very fact that geographically, it’s being held in the most southern part of the county,” Snowden said in reference to the majority-white region.

When Gwendolyn Norris moved to Deale when she was in fifth grade in 1964, she said she and her sister were the first Black students to integrate Deale Elementary School. The 65-year-old said she enjoyed growing up in Deale on Tyler Road, where several Black professionals lived and is still in Deale today.

“It was good for us," Norris said. “But we didn’t come out after dark."

Norris, joined by her children and grand niece and nephew, said Saturday’s Black Lives Matter march makes her hopeful and supported.

“There’s not enough of us to support ourselves. So it means everything,” Norris said.

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