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MAHONING, TRUMBULL Black areas lag in voter turnout, statistics show



Published: Sun, February 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A higher poverty level translates into lower voter turnout among blacks in some areas, says the head of the Youngstown Area Urban League.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Figures from Mahoning and Trumbull County election boards show that predominately black areas still fall behind other locations in overall voter turnout.

The Mahoning County Board of Elections breaks down voter registration and turnout by ward for the city of Youngstown and each surrounding township and village.

While voter turnout in the county has been most significant across the board during presidential election years, predominately black communities, in the last decade, are consistently several percentage points below other areas in turnout.

Youngstown's overall voter turnout rate is lower than that of all surrounding suburban communities in presidential elections during the last decade. In those same elections, Warren showed a greater voter turnout than did Youngstown.

Trumbull County Board of Elections results show the same lower turnout rate in predominately black areas in Warren, where voter registration and turnout are broken down by precinct. Two of Warren's predominately black wards show voter turnout less than that of the other wards.

Atty. Ron Miller, chief executive officer of the Youngstown Area Urban League, said disparity in voter percentages in black areas compared to predominately white areas is nowhere near what it once was because of aggressive campaigns urging individuals to get out and vote. Miller, however, said there is still a need to close the gap even further.

Reasons: Tom McCabe, deputy director of the Mahoning County elections board, said there are several reasons the voter turnout in certain sections of the city is lower than in others.

McCabe said the city, especially the 1st and 2nd wards, has a higher percentage of rental property than does the rest of the city. He said that represents a more transient population with less of a commitment to the area and less of an urge to head for the ballot box.

The transient population in those areas, he added, can often lead to another problem in voter turnout percentages -- inflated voter rolls.

McCabe said voter rolls become inflated because a law passed several years ago does not permit his office to purge their records as often as they would like.

When residents move, he said, it can take as long as six years before their name is removed from the system as a resident of their former neighborhood.

Miller said there are other reasons to explain lower voter turnout in some areas. He said it should be considered that the wards where there is lower turnout typically have the lowest income and highest rate of poverty. Studies have shown a correlation between poverty and voting, he said.

"You would think it would be the other way around because these are the people in most need of help, but other factors, such as lack of information on voting and lower education, make that not the case," he said.

Blacks, especially men, said Miller, also must contend with discrimination in the justice system which can lead to more incarceration. Those incarcerated cannot vote and many, he said, believe they are still ineligible to vote once they are released from prison. At one time convicted felons in Ohio were not permitted to vote, but that law has since been changed.

"Yes, the law has changed, but it is a slow process sometimes to get out word of the change," Miller added.

No faith in system: Miller and Doug Franklin, Warren City Council president, say many people in the black community do not see voting as a means to affect change in the community and, they say, that has to be changed to increase the black voter count.

"I would like to see voter turnout increase in all areas, but what this represents for blacks is that most African Americans do not feel the [political] system is worth getting out and voting," Franklin said.

Miller added that more time has to be spent educating individuals on the benefits of voting. He said it must be understood that voting is power.

Franklin said a huge part of the responsibility in making the community understand the benefits of voting lies with black elected officials.

Those officials, he said, must show the community, particularly young people who he said likely have the lowest turnout rate, that the officials offer something worth standing up for.

Another venue for reaching potential voters, Miller and Franklin said, is the church, which has played and continues to play a major role in voting for many blacks.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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