I just sat in on a teleconference this afternoon with the new President of the NAACP, Benjamin T. Jealous.

Here’s a quick rundown of what took place.

The focus of this call was two-fold. First, Mr. Jealous took a brief moment to explain some of the efforts being made by the NAACP to help the victims of Hurricane Ike. The NAACP sent staff down to the devastated area to work with local chapters so that at-risk survivors don’t suffer the same consequences as those who endured Hurricane Katrina three years ago. They are currently working with Congressman Green to get gasoline to survivors who need to transport sick family members. As it stands right now, the NAACP reports that many Black and Latino survivors have complained about a lack of access to proper communications (i.e, language barriers, etc). A command center has been established.  The number for that command center is 512-322-9457.

However the major focus of the teleconference was to unveil the NAACP’s new voter registration effort, Upload 2 Uplift . . .

(From the NAACP website):

This week, Jealous started his first day on the job rolling out a new online voter registration initiative, Upload to Uplift. This initiative uses Web 2.0 technology to encourage visitors to register and upload the email addresses of family and friends that are not registered. Upload to Uplift also uses a text message feature to remind registered voters to go to the polls on Election Day. “Online voter registration is a natural extension of the NAACP voter empowerment programs,” said Jealous. “While we will continue to do employ successful strategies, like door-to-door canvassing and phone banking, however, this tool adds the power of viral voter registration to our mix.” he added. . . .

“By making the tool available to partners to place on their sites, the NAACP aims to reach the millions of remaining unregistered African Americans and youth voters and to encourage greater turnout at the polls,” said Kirk Clay, Sr., NAACP Director of Civic Engagement.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only sixty-nine percent of African Americans are registered compared to seventy-five percent of non-Hispanic whites. In 2004, four-fifths of all registration happened in the last three months of registration and two-thirds of people who downloaded the online registration forms actually mail them in. “We’re encouraging all our community partners and anyone interested in uplifting the voices of the underrepresented to utilize these resources,” said Clay.

This effort is designed to target voters in a more familiar environment. The NAACP created the web-based program on the belief that people who live out their social lives online will live out the civic lives online as well. Mr. Jealous feels that a unique quality of this initiative is the fact that people will be able to upload lists of personal contacts. The NAACP will use these contacts to spread the word and remind voters (via text messaging) to vote on November 4 (note:  this list will also be used to expand the supporter base of the NAACP). The simple act of reminding registered voters on Election Day, according to Mr. Jealous, could increase voter turnout by approximately 4%.

In addition to this new program, the NAACP is working with its youth and college chapters throughout the country to register new voters. Of particular interest is an effort to have high school students encourage their elders to vote on behalf of their children’s future interests. The NAACP calls this an effort for high school students to “reach out and reach up” to older people in their families and say “Vote for ME.”

When asked to identify certain at-risk voters, Mr. Jealous said that activists should focus on groups such as transient voters who move from state to state; college students who sometimes get lost in the shuffle of absentee ballots; and incarcerated individuals adversely affected by confusions regarding felony disenfranchisement laws.

The NAACP continues to register voters across the country, however Mr. Jealous stressed the need for more volunteers. Funding for voter registration efforts is down considerably since 2004 with contributions amounting to less than 2 million dollars so far. However, the NAACP’s new web-based program allows them to reach more people despite fewer resources. As such, Jealous and the NAACP will continue to use web-based technologies to support operations on the ground.

Currently, the NAACP is training state civic engagement coordinators to target precincts with unlikely voters. Still, a lack of fundraising might hurt efforts to get out the vote on Election Day. As a consequence, Mr. Jealous says that people should not wait for community organizations to hire them, but should take proactive measures to involve themselves in the process.

Early Voting:

The NAACP encourages people to VOTE EARLY if possible. The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 saw many complications as polling stations weren’t prepared for long lines in urban areas. That problem might only get bigger as this election continues to set voter registration records throughout the country. As noted during the teleconference, if the enthusiasm generated from the primary is any indication of what’s in store for the general election, we don’t want to face the same problems Ohio had in 2004. Therefore, the NAACP hopes that bloggers will pay particular attention to the planning being done by Secretaries of State to judge whether or not they are making proper accommodations to handle record turnout this year.

What about voter protection???

The NAACP will switch gears to focus on voter protection as the registration deadline comes to a close. They plan to work with organizations such as The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to monitor election-day proceedings. Additionally, the NAACP will work with the United States Justice Department to target voter intimidation and misinformation.

I personally asked Mr. Jealous whether the NAACP plans to use the media to address concerns of voter suppression around the country. He answered that the NAACP is currently looking to beef up its media and communications department to publicly address some of these concerns. If any of you are interested, the NAACP hopes to grow its staff and is currently looking for two senior level and four junior level media staff personnel. Find out more at the NAACP website.

As for Election Day, the NAACP says that voters can call the following number to request legal assistance in the event of voting irregularities:  1-800-OUR-VOTE

Interested bloggers can get the widget for Upload 2 Uplift, here.

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