By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Community and businesses leaders advocate an on-line voter registration campaign launched recently by two elected officials looking to reverse two trends; declining voter registration and lower voting rates.
The time and place to launch Project Register are remarkable. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Tennessee Sen. Steve Dickerson announced the campaign on Alabama’s election day when, in a surge of minority voting, Doug Jones was elected to the U.S. Senate instead of Roy Moore.
Meanwhile, in this 14-county Metropolitan Statistical Area, “roughly 70 people were added to the Nashville MSA’s population each day through net migration in 2016,” says Riley Scholer, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s analytics and applied research manager, quoting U.S. Census Population Estimates.
So, there are plenty of people to register.
“People in North Nashville argue about how our community is changing with so many people coming in,” says Fisk University history professor Dr. Reavis Mitchell, dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social Sciences. “They ask how do we maintain our values of the community? You maintain those values by voting and being part of the process that elects council persons and mayors. Apathy will allow your community to go where those who vote … want it to go.”
Ranked 40th in voter registration and 50th in voter turnout, Tennessee has more than 838,000 adults who aren’t registered. Having increased Nashville high schoolers’ registration by 85 percent in 2015, Cooper and Dickerson want to raise voter registration in the work force.
Cooper and Dickerson announced Project Register in Nashville’s main library.
“The 75 employers here today represent some 125,000 primarily Middle Tennessee employees, but we want all Tennesseans … to participate,” Cooper said.
Project Register participants are to tell new employees about on-line voter registration at https://ovr.govote.tn.gov/Registration/#BM.
Clifton Harris, president/CEO at the Urban League of Middle Tennessee, suggests registering “people who have paid their debt to society.” Former inmates can regain citizenship rights by petitioning their chancellor, but that process is “long and difficult … We should have … a process so all their rights and privileges of citizenship can be restored.”
Image issues are another problem, Harris said. “We’ve got to call upon the media; when you constantly identify Tennessee as a one-party state — that’s discouraging.”
Before Alabama’s election, McClatchy, America’s second largest news business, reported black voters could defeat Roy Moore if they show up to vote. Jones’ election was buoyed by African Americans.
“The way you show your distain with the party in power is to cast a vote for the other party,” Harris said.
Franklin-based Randstad Senior Vice President Laquita Stribling said the international recruiting company employs 4,900 people in Middle Tennessee and will provide voter registration information to “people on the front end of the hiring process.” Stribling “didn’t hesitate to get involved when we learned the statistics.”
Only Texas has lower voter turnout than Tennessee. Washington, D.C. residents vote more than both those states.
“It’s always surprised me … how little involved the public is in politics and seeing … the voter registration numbers shocked me,” Bongo [Java] Productions Founder Bob Bernstein said.
Tennessee’s population is growing and voter participation is declining, according to Tennessee’s Secretary of State and the U.S. Election Project.
“Money is not black and white; money is not red or blue. Money is green,” says Alan S. Young, president of Nashville’s chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization. “Voting and getting our members and employees out to vote is important for everybody in business.” EO member businesses employ more than 10,000 people in 200 companies.
Tennessee is the 37th state to offer voter registration on-line.