Churches plan to take 'souls to the polls' Sunday in Manatee

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 27, 2012 

MANATEE -- With only one Sunday in a shortened early-voting period this year, local churches are organizing to take "souls to the polls" in Manatee.

So far, 10 churches have signed up to take people to the polls Oct. 28, said organizer Susie Copeland, president of the Manatee County chapter of the NAACP.

"This is an initiative from NAACP to get the black community engaged and involved in turning out the vote," she said.

Similar efforts are going on statewide and nationwide, she said.

An effort to encourage Hispanic voters with a rally featuring food and drinks is also slated 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 28 near the Manatee Supervisor of Elections office, at 600 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton, according to Beatriz Paniego Béjar, communications director for UnidosNow.org, a nonprofit organization devoted to Hispanic civic participation.

A similar event is slated for Sarasota at the same time with a different team, she said.

"We are calling to the churches, hopefully the churches will bring people," she said. "We're empowering people to go and vote, make sure people are not excluded, make sure they can exercise their right to vote."

For information, call 877-598-4466, or visit www.unidosnow.org.

Among the pastors planning to participate in the NAACP's "Souls to the Polls" event Oct. 28 is Lawrence Livingston, pastor of Eternity Temple, 716 29th St. E., Palmetto, whose church members have been doing telephone canvassing since Monday, encouraging

everyone to vote.

The church does not have a bus, but if people need a ride to the polls, Livingston said he would call others to help.

"It's a community effort," he said.

Churches will be providing their vans, as well as using rental buses and vans during early voting and on election day, Nov. 6, Copeland said.

For information, call 941-447-2189, email manateenaacp5113@gmail.com, or visit www.manateenaacp.org.

The Florida Legislature in 2011 shortened the days of early voting from a maximum of 14 to a maximum of eight.

The changes led to court challenges and charges of voter suppression by various advocacy groups.

In past years, many African-American churches bussed members en masse to the polls the Sunday before the election, but this year the polls will be closed that day.

"The right to vote is under attack, and labor, community and faith organizations are out in force across Florida, helping to protect the democratic process," said a flier put out by the Florida AFL-CIO with a listing of Tampa Bay "voter empowerment" events.

The flier listed early voting rallies scheduled for Oct. 27 in the Tampa Bay area, and a number of "souls to the polls" activitiesOct. 28.

For information, call 850-567-2237 or email salandrabenton64@gmail.com.

Another group, PICO United Florida, a network of 60 Florida congregations, said that clergy from dozens of Latino and African-American congregations across the state would be sponsoring bus and car caravans of "faith voters" to go en masse to the polls Oct. 28. For information, call 727-726-8617.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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