Voter drive aims to sign up poor people

August 09, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Jasmine Gunthorpe has never participated in a U.S. election, but she already has dedicated part of her summer to registering others to vote.

Ms. Gunthorpe, who came to Baltimore just two years ago from the U.S. Virgin Islands, has joined a statewide campaign to bring more welfare recipients and working poor to the polls this fall.

"At home in the Virgin Islands, there are very vocal local groups of people. But here it seems that the greater the area, the less the people think that they have any real effectiveness," said the Harlem Park Elementary School worker, who is looking forward to voting next month. "I try to convince people that by registering to vote, they can make a difference."

Yesterday, Ms. Gunthorpe, about 25 other volunteers and several political candidates gathered downtown to start a weeklong drive to sign up at least 1,000 voters before the Monday primary election registration deadline.

Targeting soup kitchens and food pantries, the volunteers already have registered more than 2,500 voters since June, said Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee. That group and the Maryland Coalition to End Hunger are running the voter registration campaign.

"Wherever we know there are going to be welfare customers and working poor, we know it is going to be an effective place," she said.

With welfare reform at the forefront of both national and state politics, it is important for people who rely on the programs to be heard, said Daphne Herling, statewide organizer for the food committee. "If we don't get people to respond to what their elected representatives do, then they're going to have no control over things that affect their lives."

Ms. Gunthorpe, who said she has registered more than 300 people to vote since the beginning of June, predicted that she will work more than 20 hours this week in the final push to sign up voters. She'll be juggling her desire to volunteer with the time she spends with her 8-year-old twin sons and 1-year-old daughter.

"I just want to pull people into the political process. I want to see votes count and see people avoid their self-imposed disenfranchisement," said Ms. Gunthorpe, who focuses on Southwest Baltimore.

After yesterday morning's kickoff at the food committee headquarters, Ms. Gunthorpe and fellow volunteer Michele Hawkes went to the Outreach Center of the Bethel AME Church on the 1400 block of McCulloh St. As the volunteers helped people there fill out forms, the newly registered voters appeared grateful.

"I have never voted before, but I feel that it is about time," said Orsen W. McGee, 34, of East Baltimore. "I am glad they were here to do the registration because I wouldn't have done it by myself."

But registering voters is just the first step, Ms. Gunthorpe said. "We still have to get them out on election day, and I am trying to leave people who I register with the understanding that their next responsibility is to get out and vote. Election Day is really the important thing."

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