Activists search Baltimore to enlist voters

Groups hope to bolster numbers for Election Day

August 01, 2004|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Virginia Miller had been meaning to register to vote.

The 53-year-old North Baltimore resident moved back to the city more than a year ago, but she never got around to signing up.

So when she encountered a squad of a dozen Baltimore Votes! activists yesterday preparing to canvass her Old Goucher neighborhood in search of new voters, she jumped at the opportunity. A vote, after all, is a voice.

"I'm just not liking who we got in there right now," she said, referring to unnamed elected officials. "Maybe my vote will get them out of there."

It was a discontent heard repeatedly as volunteers with the American Friends Service Committee and the Baltimore Rehab Housing Association worked the blocks surrounding the grassy park at Calvert and 23rd streets - an area they said has one of the city's lowest rates of adults registered to vote.

Annie Chambers, 62, a longtime neighborhood activist, said Old Goucher - with its mix of well-kept working-class homes and boarded-up shells - is the kind of struggling rowhouse neighborhood that needs more civic involvement.

"This is where we need it most," she said. "A lot of people are disenfranchised in this community. We want them to be able to take part in the political system and vote - young people especially. My thing is, you can stand outside and holler and holler, but if you get inside, you can make a difference."

For several hours in the hot sun and muggy breezes yesterday, Andrea Deurquiza and City College student Zachary Murray, 14, climbed porches and steps and rapped on doors. They buttonholed residents in the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Barclay St. and Guilford Ave., asking them to register, fill out address-change cards or sign pledges promising they would cast ballots.

The team received no answer to most of its knocks. At other homes, residents said they were already registered, too ill to come to the door or too young to vote.

It was slow going. Laura Goren, 23, an intern with Baltimore Votes!, said the organization has done better with registration booths at Artscape, the Caribbean festival and other large gatherings. More such campaigns are planned this month and next.

But neighborhood canvassing is a way to focus on low-registration communities. "It's a trade-off," she said.

When the idealistic band knocked on the door of a house Lawrence Hamlett is rehabilitating in the 2200 block of Guilford Ave., Hamlett told the group he is registered. But he confessed he hasn't been voting regularly. "Somehow I just didn't like anybody," he said. "I didn't feel like anybody was telling the truth."

A recovering addict, clean for more than 11 years, he said he understands why registration is low in some parts of the city. People in the grip of substance abuse have no room in their lives for voting, he said.

"They'd rather go somewhere and drink and drug."

Hamlett, 48, cheerfully filled out a change-of-address card and said he would start voting again in his new neighborhood, where he has become increasingly active.

The registration deadline to vote in the Nov. 2 election is Oct. 12.

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