For years, Pastor Karl Anderson said local churches have rallied their congregants to the polls prior to Election Day.
“This is something that’s pretty (historic) in the African American culture,” the Upper Room Ministries pastor of 20 years said. “Just to urge our community to vote, and a way of encouraging our parishioners to say ‘Hey, everyone follow me down to go vote after church,’ kind of as a ‘church-overtime’ event.”
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic may change some aspects of the “Souls to the Polls” event in Gainesville, but the underlying message remains the same to voters: Vote, and do it early.
Anderson and the Orlando-based nonprofit Equal Ground Education Fund (EGER) have partnered to host the socially-distant event this year in hopes of bolstering voting ahead of Election Day.
This year’s event will take place at the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
“I realize this year is a little different and people aren’t having church in the status quo way,” Anderson said. “Nevertheless, the tradition continues. It’s going to feel like our traditional ‘Souls to the Polls’ event.”
Masks and distance between attendees are required for the outdoor food and music event. Visitors can also drive into the parking lot and tune in their radio station to hear the likes of Anderson, gospel singer Melvin Crispell III and R&B giant Howard Hewett.
Free dinner will also be provided.
Voters can either drop their ballot off in the drop box in the front of the office, located at 515 N. Main St., or head inside to vote in-person at the elections office.
Event coordinators say voting early is particularly important this election.
“You never know what’s going to happen on Election Day,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of the nonprofit. “Make a plan to vote early.”
Alachua is one of 25 counties in the state with Souls to the Polls events.
“We’re putting in every precaution that we can,” Burney-Clark said. “The voters we need to touch aren’t on Zoom, so we’ve got to go to folks and meet them in their community.”
She said the nonpartisan event is about voters, no matter their political affiliation, taking part in their civic duty.
Free personal protective equipment will be provided to vendors, volunteers and attendees.
Early voting continues through Oct. 31.