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Group Attempts to Increase Minority Voting

African American Voter Project plants volunteers all over the city to sign people up, and they're seeing increased success.

October 20, 2002|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Anthony McGinnis stood outside a Food 4 Less off Slauson and Western Saturday, armed with a clipboard in one hand, a pen in the other. He had a mission, and nothing, not even cranky morning shoppers, would deter him.

"Good morning, miss," he called cheerily to one woman in her mid-60s, as she walked right by him as if he were invisible. "Would you like to register to vote?"

McGinnis, 45, is a foot soldier of sorts, a dedicated volunteer for the African American Voter REP (Registration, Education and Participation) Project, a grass-roots organization aimed at getting African Americans to participate in the voting process that is an outgrowth of the African American Vote 2000 Project.

This weekend is the last chance for many groups to register a large number of voters before the Monday deadline. In addition to the African American organization, all of the political parties planned voter registration drives this weekend. The California Democratic Party will be registering voters at the Sherman Oaks Street Fair, the Green Party at the Hollywood and Pico-Cloverfield farmers markets. A spokeswoman for the California Republican Party told The Times that "the troops will be in full force throughout California."

As of Friday, the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters said the African American group had registered 21,595 voters. A registrar spokeswoman, Marcia Ventura, called the group's rate of return, on the 54,000 affidavits that had been issued to it, "better than normal." The normal return, she said, is 15% to 25%.

"We've never registered this many people before," said Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the chairman of the organization, which includes labor, political, business and religious leaders on its steering committee. Seventy-five percent of the voters it registered are African American, he said, and 25% are Latino.

McGinnis, a dispatcher for Los Angeles Unified School District who spends at least five hours a day helping the group register and verify new voters, said he was buoyed by the group's success. Working in front of the supermarket Saturday, he approached strangers with unflappable enthusiasm.

"You try to be bubbly," he said of his formula for success. "And show a positive say something catchy. Anything that might spark their interest."

"We have some important measures coming up," he told Yvonne Bruce, 36, as she filled out a form to reregister herself at her new address in Los Angeles.

"I'll give you one of these fliers, to read up on it," he said.

Although his group is non-partisan, it has taken stands on several of the measures on November's ballot, including support for Measure B, which would impose a parcel tax on homes, office buildings and other developed properties to fund Los Angeles County trauma and emergency medical services.

The threat that hospitals could close caught the attention of Raquel Del Toro, 24, of Los Angeles, who said she would be voting for the first time this November. She filled out a form while her sons and nieces looked on.

It also was an impetus for Latonia Jones, 28, of Los Angeles to reregister.

The last time she voted, she said, was in the 2000 presidential election. This election, it's the issues more than the candidates that concern her. "They are trying to close down the trauma centers and the after-school programs for the kids," she said.

McGinnis said that one of his chores for the African American organization is to verify each new voter, calling the number provided on the registration form.

"Our integrity is beyond that of the registrar of voters," he said. "It has to be a correct phone number -- or someone has to answer." In two hours, McGinnis signed up four new voters, a total, he acknowledged, that wasn't spectacular.

"It works in spurts," he said. "The best days are the 1st and 15th, when people get their paychecks and Social Security checks and come to the shopping center because they have money to spend."

Still, he was satisfied. "Everyone who said they'd do it on the way out came by" and signed a form, he said.

"People who are real soldiers out there get 35 or 40 in a day. Me, I'm not that aggressive, because I've got to go back to the office and check to make sure the forms are good."

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