North County Officials, Candidates Team Up For Voter Rally
Several candidates and public officials spoke to members of the African American community about the importance of registering to vote and voting.
Votes count, whether they are cast for higher office or locally for local government or school board seats, particularly for African Americans struggling for representation.
That was according to a group of prominent African American and largely Democratic public officials and candidates gathered Saturday afternoon for a combination voter registration drive, rally and panel discussion in Black Jack.
“The reason why voting is so important is because people from our community, the black community, in these United States where we live not so long ago couldn’t vote at all,” Redditt Hudson, a Democratic candidate running for the 13th district state senate seat in the Aug. 7 party primary, said.
“People had to suffer,” Hudson said. “Your grandparents and your great-grandparents, who we loved, had to fight and fight and some of them had to die to establish your right to participate in this process.”
Hudson’s comments were echoed by other politicians and candidates gathered for the rally and voter registrations drive at Christ Redeemer AME Church. The event was sponsored by state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, who is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 75th District.
Approximately 30 people gathered at the church heard a panel discussion that included Hudson, Gray, attorney and former state Rep. Elbert A. Walton, Jr. and Terry Wilson, a candidate for state representative in the 66th District.
Other local office holders who spoke included, Jennings City Councilwoman and School Board member Yolonda Fountain Henderson, Country Club Hills Alderwoman Margie Jones and Black Jack Alderman Art Hinkle, and Tony Weaver, a Democratic committeeman from Spanish Lake Township.
Hudson and other speakers said voting matters because it has consequences.
“(Voting) matters because who you vote for is going to help write the laws,” Hudson said. “The laws matter because they are going to affect your lives.”
But those speaking also acknowledged that voter participation in general, and among African Americans, often remain low. They also assailed proposed legislation in the Missouri General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to require a state issued voter photo identification card that would at the polls to allow people to vote.
Each vote is critical, particularly in local elections, local office holders said. “You can complain but if you don’t vote, you have noting to complain about,” said Hinkle, who is seeking a second term this April on the Black Jack Board of Aldermen.
“I’ve knocked on many doors, many doors, to try to convince people that your vote does matter,” Henderson, who is also running a Democratic committeewomen seat in Norwood Township, said.
Gray said people need to vote the entire ballot not just select offices. “People like to call me when something is happening in your neighborhood, but really it’s up to your local officials,” she said.
But Gray and Watkins agreed that voter apathy among African Americans and other groups remain high.
Watkins said he became discouraged when he would hold public meetings and few people would attend. “(African Americans) have to find something that inspires them,” Walton said. “If they don’t find something that inspires them they won’t come out to vote no matter what efforts are made.”
Efforts by Republicans, such as requiring new photo identification cards, also make it difficult for people to participate and discourage people from voting, they said.
“It’s really a naked attempt to disenfranchise,” Hudson said. “The argument that (photo ID laws) are there to prevent fraud is itself fraudulent because there is no significant evidence anywhere of a real problem in this country with voter fraud.”
Hudson added, “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”
At a voter registration table in the rear of the church lecture hall, members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity registered a few voters. Rodney Grady, who was helping people fill out cards, said no photo ID cards are required for registration.
Several residents attending with their children said they liked the discussion. Angel Watkins of Florissant wanted to know more about candidates for circuit judge.
“I want to know more about and how do I find more about our local and primary election,” Watkins said.
Michelle Hyde of Florissant sat in the audience with her 10-year-old daughter, Kynadi. Kynadi Hyde is president of her student council at Barrington Elementary School in the Hazelwood School District.
“I thinks it’s important to educate your children as early as possible about politics, about doing research and about the importance of the vote,” Hyde said. “And the fact is that we are African Americans and our forefathers struggled for the right to vote and we should never take that lightly.”