Civic and Business Leaders Share their Concerns as Early Voting Begins

Aviwe DuBois Data News Weekly Contributor

About 200,000 residents in the state have requested mail-in ballots, which is almost triple the amount in the 2016 presidential election. Early voting in Louisiana starts on Friday, Oct. 16th and runs through Oct. 27th. Many Louisianians are weighing both the pandemic and the country’s economic conditions in determining how they should vote.

“You hear every four years this is the most important election in U.S. history. I don’t think Trump has elevated any conversation we did not know existed in this country, notwithstanding that this country elected Barack Obama twice,” said Telley Madina, a political consultant who is President of The Madina Group, and a Senior Policy Officer for Oxfam America.

The racial and class tensions in the country have divided voters of all groups, and many are concerned about the divisions in the country have emboldened White nationalist groups during the last four years.

“I think he has illuminated the things that we know to be true and probably allowed those to give some White individuals, drunk with hysteria and impure motives, liquid courage to think that you’re supposed to devalue Black bodies, Black lives, and specifically in this census even Black women,” said Madina, a seventh ward native.

The 2016 election proved how much power the Electoral College has during the election. Even though Hillary Clinton won the overall popular vote, Trump won the electoral vote and was declared president. Civic groups say part of their role in this early voting period, with weeks leading up to the election, is to educate citizens about how important the electoral college is, and that every vote counts.

“I think it’s one of the most important elections in my lifetime, given the circumstances that 2020 has manifested for us,” said Norris Henderson, the Executive Director of Voice of the Experience and Voters Organized to Educate. “I think the general election is making sure that people are safe and making sure that people’s right to vote is not being suppressed.”

An important part of the civic exercise is to help voters know what is at stake. Former associate justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed away on Sept. 18, 2020. The Senate began confirmation hearings for President Trump’s nominee to replace Ginsburg, Metairie native Amy Coney Barrett, on Oct. 12th. Voters are concerned about what the shift in balance of the court could mean for Civil Rights Legislation and even for the Affordable Care Act, most commonly referred to as Obamacare. President Trump urged the Senate to confirm his Supreme Court nominee, in order for him to consider working with Democrats for a second-round of stimulus.

“I think the president of the United States needs to exhibit and be a person my children should be able to emulate,” Madina said. “You were looking to the presidential forum in order to give your kids something to live up to and clearly that forum and debate fell short,” he said. The commission on presidential debates cancelled the second debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Trump that was scheduled for Oct. 15th after the president decided not to participate in a virtual debate.

The uncertainty of the country’s leadership means that the recovery from the effects of the pandemic are delayed until residents know for sure what is the national strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19. Although the City moved into Phase 3 of reopening in early October, residents said they are still hesitant in returning to business and spending as usual, particularly with many workers unemployed still, and businesses only slowly returning to larger capacity levels.

“For small businesses it is important that whoever gets elected, allocate resources to our small businesses, so that’s our main focus,” said Joyce Wilson, aka Miss Chill, the owner of Mr. Chill’s First-Class Cuts Barbershop. “We don’t want to be pushed to the back, we need to know what’s going on, especially after this virus, a lot of the funds are running out or have ran out,” Wilson said.

There are a host of voices in the community that include former elected officials, radio talk show hosts and activist, who are voicing their views surrounding the issues that concern them and the importance of the election.

Oliver Thomas, WBOK-AM Radio Host says that his listeners have voiced many concerns regarding the elections, “Many who are calling in and speaking to me say they are tired of the status quo. They are looking more closely at the candidates and their platforms to see if they align with polices that will benefit their families and communities.”

Cynthia Willard-Lewis is a former member of the New Orleans City Council, who is still involved in work that improve the lives in the City. “I must say that first I am a proud Democrat and support their platform both locally and nationally. I am dismayed at seeing that 214,000 people have lost their lives because of the policies set forth by this President. This election Criminal Justice Reform and issues of systematic racism are also important. We must return to building bridges of understanding and decency in our public discourse. And also, we must look at expanding economic and educational opportunities for the people of our City and nation. One way we can work to achieve this is by voting.”

Hal Clark is the former host of WYLD FM 98 Sunday Journal, a Public Affairs Show. He is also a playwright and continues to have his finger on the pulse of the people of the City. “I believe the main issue we are facing is the challenges to all people having access to the polls. There seems to be a concerted effort by some to keep people away from the polls. It is for reason that people get all the information around voting and get out and cast their ballots.”

Al Mims is a former member of the Louisiana Parole Board and is an activist that works to reduce crime and gun violence in New Orleans. “This president has legitimized racism and division. He is a liar who is trying to divide us. The difference in these candidates and the direction they want to take the country could not be clearer. We need to vote as if our life depends on it. I would go further and say, this is the most important election of my lifetime; so, I am asking all please to get out and vote.”

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