Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

Hundreds of black voters cast ballots as part of 'Souls to the Polls' initiative

On the only Sunday of early voting for the presidential election, organizers guided black voters from churches to ballots in events throughout the bay area, including a march led by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

In East Tampa, the line was out the door at the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library. Hundreds of early voters, most still in church clothes, dodged cars in the full parking lot and chatted with other parishioners as they waited for everyone to finish.

Black voters, an important base for the Democratic Party, showed up at polling locations in force throughout the weekend as part of a statewide effort linked to black churches called Souls to the Polls.

"We wanted to make it big, we wanted to make it noticeable," said Janette Spencer-Davis, a member of Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Tampa. "This is a tremendous turnout."

With the election just more than a week away, efforts to motivate voters in contested regions such as Tampa Bay are going full throttle. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a rally Saturday in Land O'Lakes, and President Barack Obama held a rally Thursday in Ybor City.

David Green, pastor of Allen Temple AME, had been encouraging members of his congregation to vote — for any candidate — for weeks, he said. If they came back to the church with an "I Voted" sticker Sunday, he said, members would get a free lunch.

"Voting means so much to our African-American community," he said. "Our foreparents fought and died for this right. We're out here to show we still believe in the power of voting."

Across the bay, church congregations in Pinellas County were also sending souls to the polls.

Crist, a former governor and former Republican who endorsed Obama in August, visited four churches in Pinellas County with his wife.

"My former party didn't like it because I dared to be decent to a new president," Crist, now registered independent, said at Bethel Community Baptist Church. "I'm voting for him today. I wish I had last time."

He later led black voters on a march to the elections office in St. Petersburg to cast ballots.

In a separate event Sunday, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria addressed about 100 Obama campaign volunteers during two stops in West Tampa.

"I believe in moving the country forward and not backward," she said to cheers from about 50 volunteers at her first stop, a former Hostess bakery outlet at 4228 N Armenia Ave.

Staff writers Craig Pittman and Rich Shopes contributed to this report.

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