Jabari Reed-Diop (AKA iBoms) and well-known St. Pete mural artist Derek Donnelly produced a Vote By Mail mural on the large west wall of Enoch Davis Community Center.
ST. PETERSBURG — The League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg Area (LWVSPA) had to stop doing in-person voter registration and education events in mid-March; their last outing was helping clients at Daystar Life Center on March 11.
But that has not stopped the 100-year-old organization, which is all-volunteer and nonpartisan, from getting the word out in the community about the importance of voting by mail this year.
Using publicly available data from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections and working closely with community partners, LWVSPA developed a multi-part campaign with messaging that urges residents to think about voting by mail as “Your Voting Back-Up Plan.”
“That means that come Election Day, voters won’t have to choose their health over their voting rights if COVID-19 is still raging,” said LWVSPA president Linsey Grove. “And they won’t have to worry about waiting on long lines in potentially hot, stormy weather because of a reduction in polling sites, as we saw recently in Georgia.”
The voter turnout data and partner conversations also led to the decision by Grove and leaders of the Voter Services team to focus the campaign on low turnout precincts, particularly on the south side; speaking to female voters who like the tradition of voting in person as a way of engaging with their families and neighbors at their polling place.
It explains that by having their ballots in-hand weeks before the election, voters can fill them out early and either mail them or return them to any of the 20 plus early voting sites the Supervisor of Elections plans to have available.
“But,” Grove added, “if COVID is under control and a citizen prefers to go to her polling place in person, she can bring along her mail-in ballot, turn it in and get an in-person ballot instead.”
The first phase of the project has included blanketing the community with printed vote-by-mail information flyers that provide how to request a ballot, key dates by which to make that request and return a ballot. Also, FAQs about why voting by mail in Pinellas County is an extraordinarily safe and effective way to make sure your voice is heard and reminders to sign your ballot.
Those have been provided by the thousands to organizations and churches such as The Well, CDAT, Positive Impact Church, PTC, Black Nurses Rock, Mt. Zion Progressive, National Council of Negro Women and Urban League Young Professionals, all of whom have placed the flyers in grocery or care boxes going to families in need, health care workers and blood bank participants.
Additionally, Bartlett Park, Campbell Park, Childs Park, and 13th St. Heights Neighborhood Associations distributed them in their communities. Digital PDFs of the flyers went out to Deuces Live, Midtown Rotary and NCNW to share with their networks.
The second phase of the project was a recently completed peer-to-peer text messaging campaign. It reached more than 8,000 registered female voters in low voter turnout precincts, urging them to request their vote-by-mail ballots now, rather than waiting until closer to the Aug. 18 primary.
It will be implemented again as the Aug. 18 primary nears and revived for the general election. Likewise, a 2,000-person postcard campaign, which will launch next week, was created in partnership with NCNW and Mt. Zion Progressive to focus on the same demographic group within precincts 117 and 119, which have among the lowest turnout.
Grove said while data shows that women in these precincts vote at higher rates than men, “there was agreement in many of our discussions with community partners that women are the decision-makers and influencers in their families and communities primarily in areas like voting.”
There is also a full package of social media messaging and imaging — for which LWVSPA hopes to photograph community members voting at home with their families — that will roll out regularly between now and the Nov. 3 General Election.
But the icing on the cake of the LWVSPA campaign involves spreading the vote by mail message by art. With permission from the City of St. Petersburg, a process facilitated by Supervisor of Parks and Programs Richard Craft with approval of 13th St. Heights NA and support from others in the community.
This three-month collaboration with up-and-coming talent from the south side, Jabari Reed-Diop (AKA iBoms), and well-known St. Pete mural artist Derek Donnelly produced a Vote By Mail mural on the large west wall of Enoch Davis Community Center.
It was just finished last Friday and was the subject of a Bay News 9 piece over the weekend. It has also enjoyed a broad array of support online since its launch.
“We loved the idea of doing something bold, bright, and with a younger vibe to get out the vote-by-mail story,” said Grove. “And Derek and Jabari were our dream team.”
There will be a community drive-through event, following all city safety protocols, to celebrate the work on July 11 in the Enoch Davis parking lot. It will include free boxed lunches to-go, “ballots” for kids to fill out, voting info for those 18 and older, and, of course, voting stickers. Residents can also go the LWVSPA.org and their Facebook and Instagram pages to see images of the mural.
Meanwhile, in-person voter registration is slow to return. Voter registration volunteers have done three in-person events with strict safety protocols, including at the St. Pete Peace Protest, at Daystar Life Center and at the Juneteenth celebration in Williams Park.
LWVSPA and Community Law Program are also hosting a voter registration event specifically for Returning Citizens this Sunday, June 28, from 12-3 p.m. at the parking lot of Rock of Jesus MB Church, 3940 18th Ave. S.
Pro bono attorneys will be available for those who are not able to register because of sentencing issues. Free masks are available for those without, as are hand-sanitizer refills to those who bring their own bottles.
“We are going to take a look at COVID numbers after this weekend to see if we will continue doing events,” stated Grove, USFSP faculty at the USF College of Public Health. “If they keep spiking we may rethink being out. We want our volunteers and the public to be healthy and safe.”