Campaigns, volunteers push to get Tampa Bay voters to the polls
The next week and a half in the Tampa Bay area will be full of rallies, “get out the vote” caravans and final efforts to help those who haven’t yet cast their ballots get to the polls by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.
Already this election has seen record turnout. With more than a week to go until Election Day, more Floridians have voted by mail than in the entire 2018 general election.
In-person early voting is seeing similar trends. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties reported unprecedented numbers for first-day early voting. Nearly 1.4 million ballots were cast statewide as of Friday morning.
Still, Republicans and Democrats are focusing efforts to make sure those who have yet to vote find their way to the polls. Both parties are planning events this weekend, from the parking lots of Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium to the streets of Wimauma and the pews of Tampa Bay churches.
“It’s all an effort to help folks make a plan to vote by creating these events that draw people so they can take the action of either voting or bringing someone else to vote,” Equal Ground Education Fund founder Jasmine Burney-Clark said.
Equal Ground Education Fund will host a socially-distant event at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg as one of 25 “Park and Praise” events the group has planned throughout the state Saturday. Attendees can drop off their vote-by-mail ballots and hear from local faith leaders from their vehicles. A similar event will be held Oct. 31 in Tampa, where the group will offer free food, worship music and giveaways at Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que.
“Our goal is to meet people where they are in the in their communities and target people we know have a lower propensity of voting," Burney-Clark said.
The Trump campaign has planned dozens of events throughout the state Saturday to coordinate with the president casting his vote in West Palm Beach. One of the “Trump the Vote” early voting events will be at 9 a.m. at Raymond James Stadium.
“We’re just pushing as hard as we can,” Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters said. “I think people have not had a reason to vote before, but Donald Trump is like a superman... That’s why you’re getting people who have never voted before 2016 or aren’t interested in politics.”
Both political parties are hoping to tap into the tens of millions of registered voters nationwide who did not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis of new Census Bureau data found the main issues keeping people from the polls were dislike of the candidates or not feeling like their votes mattered.
Holly Jamison, a Democratic precinct captain and Wimauma community development corporation board member, has volunteered with campaigns since helping to get Barack Obama elected as a U.S. senator in 2004. She stayed active in campaigns through her move to Hillsborough in 2015.
She said some non-voters feel their vote doesn’t matter, something she hears repeatedly from Hispanic voters in Wimauma.
“They are feeling, especially in that community, that no one is listening to them,” Jamison said.
Efforts like Souls to the Polls events taking people from two Wimauma churches to voting sites the next two Sundays help not only encourage people to vote, Jamison said, but to also show others in the community that those voting blocs are active and engaged.
Singer, author and SouthShore honorary mayor Joe Zuniga is hoping a lowrider truck parade through Ruskin and Wimauma Saturday will help Latino voters, especially Mexican-Americans, feel that they’re not alone and motivate them to cast their ballots.
“My hope is that every Latino that’s eligible to vote comes out and votes, regardless of who you choose,” Zuniga said. “At the end of the day, our voices need to be heard and that’s what it’s all about.”
He said volunteers are working to make sure obstacles like lack of transportation don’t stop someone from voting.
Hillsborough GOP Chair Jim Waurishuk said he and other volunteers have given rides to people this week who called their office looking for help getting to the polls. He said about 15 people are on standby, including a retired limousine driver.
While the local party office has offered this service for years, Waurishuk said they’ve seen an uptick in requests this election. One elderly man told Waurishuk as they rode to the polling place that he wasn’t going to vote because he’s no longer comfortable driving, but he decided this election was too important to not find a way.
“People are paying attention to what’s going on and they feel more compelled than ever that they have to do something and get out in vote," Waurishuk said. "We’re hearing a lot of that.”
Transit agencies and ridershare companies are providing free and discounted rides to help those without cars reach their local polling place. Bus rides in Pinellas remain free during the coronavirus pandemic, and Hillsborough riders can take a free trip to the polls on Nov. 3 by showing their voter registration card.
“Our goal is to have everyone have a voice and have a say," Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority chief executive Brad Miller said. “If we can make that easier for people to get to where they need to vote, even ahead of time, we think that’s a very important part of what we do.”