The Rev. Al Sharpton came to South Florida Tuesday to encourage black voters to register, get the proper ID and cast their ballots.
His appearance Tuesday in person and on local radio at New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka was part of a countrywide tour of Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Local clergy members, politicians and activists gathered for a luncheon and an afternoon rally. The message: empowerment and education to make sure that everyone has a smooth route through the voting process.
“I believe in action,” Sharpton said. “If people are taking our vote, we need to be right on that.”
NAN opened a Miami-Dade office over the weekend as part of an effort to engage marginalized voters and get them to the polls. That means registering people to vote and making sure they get proper identification, which is especially a concern for seniors, low-income voters and those who don’t drive.
Although showing a picture ID at the polling place has long been a requirement in Florida, Sharpton said the laws can keep away registered people from the voting booth. That’s more of a problem, he said, than the chance of fraud.
New voter ID laws have recently been enacted in 19 states and have been proposed in other states as well.
At stake in those states are 210 electoral votes, said Tamika Mallory, national director of NAN. She said that a successful presidential candidate would have to win 78 percent of these votes. Making a point not to endorse any particular party, she urged people to “get out and vote for somebody.”
Like the candidates, Sharpton sees South Florida as “ground zero” for the election. In a battleground state like this one, the outcome of the presidential election could decide the national results.
South Florida civic leaders including Bishop Victor Curry of New Birth Baptist are working alongside Sharpton to make it easier for black voters.
During his visit, Sharpton also gave some practical advice: Don’t wait until November to find out if there is a problem with registration or identification. He suggested that voters use the Aug. 14 primaries as a “dress rehearsal.”
Early voting for the primaries has already started and continues through 7 p.m. Saturday.
On the ballot: Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Congress and some state and local offices including the race for Miami-Dade mayor.
Activist Lovette McGill spoke on the radio Tuesday with Sharpton.
Their goal is to get “souls to the polls.”