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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 12:08 am

Faith Coalition registers hundreds to vote

 Election Day is Nov. 6, a time when American citizens can exercise their right to vote. Unfortunately, many choose not to vote, for a variety of reasons. Some think their vote doesn’t matter. Springfield-based Faith Coalition for the Common Good is working to change that. By promoting voter registration and the importance of voting, the nonpartisan Faith Coalition is determined to address social justice by engaging more individuals in the election process.

The Faith Coalition is a coalition of faith communities, community organizations and individuals working collaboratively for racial equality, civic engagement, a fair economy and participatory decision-making. It primarily services Springfield and Beardstown-Rushville and its vision is racial and economic equity for all across central Illinois. The Faith Coalition helps people register to vote and understand the connection between voting and addressing critical issues. Executive Director Shelly Heideman says their targeted audience is America’s new majority – persons of color, low-income people, single women and millennials. The organization is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

Heideman says the Faith Coalition has a good relationship with Don Gray, Sangamon County clerk. The county clerk is the chief election authority administering elections throughout Sangamon County. Voter registration is one of the many election-related services provided by this office. “The Faith Coalition is of enormous assistance to Sangamon County,” Gray says. “They are passionate and persistent about voter registration, and they do this well. It is to our advantage as a county to be proactive 365 days each year for voter registration. The Faith Coalition is a tremendous partner.”

There are 180 precincts and 81 polling locations in Sangamon County. Illinois now has same-day voter registration, and individuals can register at their polling place on Election Day. Managing same-day voting requires a lot of personnel and validation. By getting more people registered in advance and serving as deputy registrars to register individuals on Election Day, the Faith Coalition is providing a service to Sangamon County.

Gail Fobbs is a passionate volunteer with the Faith Coalition. As a deputy registrar she helped register people at Washington Street Mission and other sites and has walked door to door with her message that “every voice counts.” She sees people who are broken and hurting, and they think their voice doesn’t count and won’t make a difference. She wants to change that perspective. She asks people what is important to them and encourages them to vote in order to have an impact on those issues. “People who came before us fought for women’s suffrage and black people’s right to vote,” says Fobbs. She believes everyone needs to register and vote.

Jan Von Qualen is another volunteer with the Faith Coalition. She has walked door to door on the east side of Springfield where voter turnout is historically low. She also talked to bus riders at the SMTD transfer station. Von Qualen says there are about 40 volunteers from the Faith Coalition, League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women who have promoted their message at black churches, Matheny Elementary School fall festival, the downtown Farmers Market, the JBS meatpacking plant in Beardstown and other venues. Von Qualen says people are very receptive. She is surprised and encouraged by the response when people see that someone cares about them and about having their voice heard. She was motivated to get involved after the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. She believes money has far too much influence in elections. The way to counter this is to get more people to exercise their right to vote, she said.

Gray says there are 138,000 voters in Sangamon County, and 25,000-30,000 individuals are qualified but have not yet registered. The typical voter turnout in Sangamon County for a midterm election is 53-55 percent. There is a lot of interest in the upcoming election. Gray says early voting has been extraordinarily high to date. Early voting is up six-fold over the gubernatorial election four years ago, and voting by mail is up 155 percent compared to the 2014 election.

The Faith Coalition has registered hundreds of individuals and talked to thousands. Although the Faith Coalition will be busy on Election Day, its work will not stop on Nov. 7. “We talk to people year round about how voting impacts families,” Heideman says. “Voting is crucial to our issue work which focuses on workforce diversity and economic equity, reform of the criminal justice system, equitable education funding for all, civic engagement and immigration reform."


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