Non-Profits Help Get Out the Vote
Mercy Housing, Via Community Development and others turning out city voters.
Residents of Mercy Housing, which operates five affordable housing sites in Milwaukee, grew concerned when only five in-person polling stations were open in the city during the spring election in April.
“They were left with a lot of uncertainty, and worried that the number of polling locations in Milwaukee would be cut down again in November,” said Clarissa Cameron, regional director of resident services at Mercy Housing, the largest nonprofit owner of affordable housing in the country.
In response to concerns from residents, most of whom are elderly or have special needs, Mercy launched a get-out-the-vote initiative in August that focused on early and absentee voting.
“We helped them make voting plans, get registered, told them all the important dates and walked them through the entire process,” said Cameron, whose group partnered with Common Ground to provide resources to residents, including Chromebooks that were cleaned after each use.
Civic engagement and COVID-19
In addition to offering health and wellness services, Mercy Housing has worked for years to increase civic engagement among residents. Things were much different this year, as the goal of empowering residents was complicated by COVID-19.
“Our first priority is making sure our residents are safe, so we wanted to help them learn how to vote early so that they can avoid the crowds on Election Day,” Cameron said.
The group’s hard work paid off. Of 545 Mercy Housing residents in Milwaukee, 70 percent of those who are eligible to vote are now registered, a 45 percent increase from the beginning of the initiative. Many have already voted, Cameron said.
“This year we’re focusing on alternatives, phone calls to residents, online or social media and doing whatever else we can to get information out to people without putting anyone at risk,” said Lidia Villazaez, community outreach manager for the organization.
The organization teamed up recently with other local groups to participate in a Pack the Polls Car Parade, which traveled from the North Side to the South Side of the city.
“The goal was to get the message out about early voting,” Villazaez said about the caravan that included residents and elected officials. “We’re doing whatever we can to share information in a safe way.”
On Election Day, the group will distribute masks, sanitizer, snacks and pens at ALBA School, 1712 S. 32nd St. The materials will be made available to any resident, regardless of polling location, Villazaez said.
Aside from concerns about the coronavirus, many residents in the area served by VIA are not able to vote, she said. She lets those individuals know, however, that they can still get involved.
“We ask them to encourage their son, daughter, husband and whoever else to vote for the needs of their family,” she said. “You can still be engaged by volunteering to spread the message about voting, and there are also a lot of ways to communicate your concerns with your elected reps.”
As of Wednesday, 125,204 absentee ballots have been returned in the City of Milwaukee, according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Villazaez said she has been encouraged by what she’s seen so far.
“There have been a lot of people that have said they already returned their absentee ballots and other groups have their plans for early voting,” she said. “People want to have their voice heard.”
What you need to know about Election Day
- New Lawsuit Challenges Election Drop Boxes, Wants Election Thrown Out - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 27th, 2020
- Milwaukee County Completes Recount - George Christenson - Nov 27th, 2020
- Milwaukee County Recount Finished, Dane County Continuing - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 27th, 2020
- Counting Effectively Completed, Milwaukee County Recount Will Finish on Friday - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 25th, 2020
- Milwaukee County Recount Back on Schedule - George Christenson - Nov 25th, 2020
- Tempers Flare, Monty Python Crack Offered at Recount - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 25th, 2020
- Recount an Insult to Minority Voters? - Isiah Holmes - Nov 25th, 2020
- Trump Allies Sue To Throw Out Wisconsin Election - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 24th, 2020
- Early Recount Has Small Gain for Trump - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 24th, 2020
- Op Ed: Republican Slams Party for State Recount - James Wigderson - Nov 24th, 2020
Read more about 2020 General Election here