Black leaders want county to step up with more ‘aggressive’ public campaign
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
As Pennsylvania’s governor sprayed a smidge of sanitizer on his hands, he took a page from Captain Obvious earlier this month with this statement: “From where we stand today, it is unlikely that we will eradicate COVID-19 from our commonwealth by June 2nd.”
Tom Wolf, the governor, then said in front of the hot microphones: “But we still need to hold a Primary Election. Free and fair elections are essential to who we are as a country. And Democracy is perhaps even more important than ever during times of crisis.”
What might not be so obvious, though, is exactly “how” to vote in the upcoming Pa. Primary. Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald wants the overwhelming majority of ballots in the county to be sent in by mail, not via the traditional polling places that many are used to visiting on election days.
Tim Stevens, CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, says words are not enough. An entire public campaign needs to be started by the county—tailored to Allegheny County’s African American residents—on how voting will work in a few Tuesdays.
“We know that over 150,000 Allegheny County voters have either applied for, and/or received their ballots,” Stevens said in a May 10 letter to Fitzgerald, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier.
“We are sure that you would agree that these voters are not only motivated to vote, but many also have access to computers and Wi-Fi. Many of our (African American) voters are not as aware, and many cannot afford computers, let alone Wi-Fi in their homes. We must ensure that they are not left behind.”
The letter was also backed by Rick Adams, co-convener, Western Pa. Black Political Assembly, Richard A. Stewart Jr., Pittsburgh NAACP president, Maryn Formley, executive chair and founder, Voter Empowerment, Education & Enrichment Movement (VEEM), Luther J. Sewell Jr., convener, Talk Minority Action Group, and Tracy Baton, coordinator, Pittsburgh Women’s March.
The Black leaders want county government to create an “aggressive public education campaign” to inform county residents of the “extreme lack” of polling places that will be open on June 2; the option to vote by mail, including the proper procedures and timelines for filling out and returning the applications; and the proper procedures and timelines for receiving, casting and returning their ballots.
While Stevens appreciates the social media efforts of the county, he is calling for public service announcements to be placed on local television and radio stations, and in newspapers, to firmly reach the African American community. This would better ensure that Black voters in the county would be able to participate in the June 2 Primary, which was originally scheduled for April 28.
If you haven’t already received a mail-in ballot through the regular mail, you can apply for one in a few ways: visit alleghenyvotes.com and apply online for a mail-in ballot with a valid state drivers’ license or photo ID; visit alleghenyvotes.com and download and print out a mail-in ballot application, which can then be sent via regular mail; visit the County Elections office, 542 Forbes Ave., Suite 601.
The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 26.
There are usually 1,323 polling places in Allegheny County on election days. Come June 2, there won’t be more than 300 polling places available, and chances are good that your normal polling location won’t be open, so as to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect the many seniors who oftentimes staff the polling locations.
“This allows voters to make their choices from the safety of their own home,” Gov. Wolf said in a May 4 news conference, “then, send in their ballot through the mail. It just has to be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.”
Chances are, though, that Gov. Wolf’s news conference from Harrisburg wasn’t a trending topic in many Allegheny County residences. Stevens is calling on Fitzgerald and Allegheny County, though, to use its financial and influential muscle to make the June 2 Primary and its ways of voting a trending topic in Allegheny County African American homes now, before it’s too late.
You may have already received your mail-in ballot in the regular mail. If not, continue to check over the next few days for it. If it does not arrive, visit alleghenyvotes.com to request another mail-in ballot, or visit the County Elections office at 542 Forbes Avenue, Suite 601. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is May 26. Once you receive your mail-in ballot, fill it out clearly and send it back to the County Elections office before June 2.
FEATURED IMAGE: TIM STEVENS