In the most recent election, in April 2017, only 16.4 percent of registered voters in Jackson County made it to the polls.
Ginger Rye, the founder and president of Women for Change Carbondale, says turnout was similarly low in her neighborhood, which she describes as including Carbondale’s first, fourth and fifth precincts.
She says her work with Women for Change had previously included drives to up voter registration, in places like high schools and churches. But she noticed that in the last election, people who were registered just weren’t going to vote. It gave her an idea.
“If I could get 25 percent of those individuals to vote, then there would be changes,” Rye said. That’s where the 9,000 by November Challenge was born.
In the last election, there were just over 36,000 registered voters in Jackson County — 9,000 would be about 25 percent of those registered voters.
The 9,000 by November Challenge so far has included a pledge, which has been sent to Carbondale voters in the first, fourth and fifth precincts by mail and is also available online, as well as a public forum with candidates running for judge in the first circuit. Women for Change is planning another public forum after the March 20 primary with candidates who make it to the general election. Rye says the pledge next will be mailed to the remaining Carbondale voters, then Jackson County voters outside the population center.
“By November, we hope to reach everybody,” she said.
The pledge invites registered voters to “take the challenge” to vote in the March 20 primary and Nov. 6 general elections. It includes a space for voters to give a name and email address.
Women for Change plans to follow up with people after the primary who submitted the pledge.
“Did you go to the polls,” Rye said they will ask. “Did you have problems getting there? Do you need a ride? Do you need a babysitter? What can we do to help you get to the polls?”
“We are not advocating for you to vote for anyone,” Rye said. “But we want to challenge you to go out and vote, to get involved, to get familiar with the candidates and go out to the polls.”
The initiative started with a letter Rye sent to community leaders, including the Carbondale branch of the NAACP, Greek organizations on the SIU Carbondale campus, the Attucks Community Service Board, Eurma Hayes Center and precinct committeemen, asking for support in what the letter dubbed a “voter registration turnout blitz in 2018.”
Since then, volunteers have pitched in to stuff and label envelopes and pay for postage to mail pledges to Carbondale voters.
Rye says the group is taking it one day at a time.
“But our goal is to get to 9,000 voters in Jackson County. They are out there — they are registered and ready to go, and we are trying to get them to the polls.”
The public forum last Thursday with seven judicial candidates brought a crowd to the Eurma C. Hayes Center. When my friend and I entered the room as one candidate was giving his opening statement, we joined a crew of people standing in the back, as all the chairs that had been set out before the event were full. A man wheeled a rack of chairs out of a supply closet, and beckoned each person in turn to sit as he added chairs to the neat rows.
Yes, they are out there.
ALEE QUICK is digital editor of The Southern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-351-5807. Follow her on Twitter: @the_quickness