Two black organizations will begin a voter registration drive tomorrow aimed at signing up at least 10,000 more Howard County voters during the next five years.
The Howard County NAACP and the Columbia chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority will launch the registration campaign at 10 a.m. at Columbia's Wilde Lake Interfaith Center on Trumpeter Road in Columbia.
"This is a positive step to heighten the awareness of impacting the larger African-American community," said Jenkins Odoms, president of the county's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"It is important to make elected officials know that they must serve all people -- blacks, those who are poor, and those who are disadvantaged.
"Increasing the number of voters will give us the power to do this," he said. "With votes you can have a say-so."
The county's NAACP chapter is among 26 Maryland chapters working to empower voters through registration, education and participation. Next month, the two Howard groups will expand the voter drive to village centers, churches and business parks in Columbia and then to other areas of the county, said Cradelia Birdsong, chairwoman of the sorority's political action committee.
Plans also are being made to register 18-year-old students, organizers said. Baby-sitting services and rides for those who want to go to registration sites will be provided later in the year. Organizers said they hope to register at least 2,000 voters a year.
Blacks make up about 18 percent of Columbia residents and 13 percent of the county's population, said Sherman Howell, vice president of the county NAACP chapter. Mr. Odoms, the group's president, said he believes about 50 percent of eligible black voters in the county are registered.
"The political climate for blacks in this area isn't very good," said Mr. Howell. "There are few blacks in the county's local associations, only one black on the County Council, one in the state delegation and none on the school board.
"And this is supposed to be a progressive neighborhood," he said. "If we get 10,000 voters, then we have a significant number to . . . at least give [blacks] confidence to run."