Republicans Call Ferguson Voter Drive 'Disgusting, Completely Inappropriate'
On Sunday the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist and television host, mentioned that voter turnout in the Ferguson, Mo., area was a mere 12 percent in the last election, and pledged to help boost that number with a registration drive. Twelve percent, he said, was "an insult to your children." He wasn't the first to think of channeling the anger over Mike Brown's death in this particular direction. Twitter users on Saturday noted voter registration tables in front of the makeshift memorial where the unarmed teenager was shot by a police officer.
Encouraging more participation in the democratic process in a community that feels alienated from political power - hence the demonstrations - seems like an obviously good idea; and one that's particularly compelling because it's so simple. Voting is an alternative to protesting in the streets.
And yet, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, Matt Wills, denounced the plan.
Mr. Wills told the right-wing website Breitbart: "If that's not fanning the political flames, I don't know what is. I think it's not only disgusting but completely inappropriate."
On another right-wing site, Red State, Dan McLaughlin also argued that there was something indecent about the registration drive. Ferguson presents an opportunity for "Right and Left" to find "common ground," he wrote. But "the minute you turn your energies into just another effort to register Democratic voters and fire up the Democratic base in advance of an election," he argued, "the harder you make it to keep the common ground from vanishing in the fog."
Who said anything about "register[ing] Democratic voters"?
"Voter registration for #Ferguson residents is at the QT & the crime scene. SIGN UP. Get on the juries, choose your leaders," tweeted attorney and activist @ReignOfApril. "Voter Registration is a brilliant way to honor #MichaelBrown's memory. It's a positive reaction to horrible situation," wrote @Koursey in reply.
While the city of Ferguson is two-thirds African-American, the vast majority of their police force and almost all local elected officials are not.
"Though whites make up just 29% of the city's residents," reports MSNBC's Zachary Roth, "five of Ferguson's six city council members are white, as is Mayor James Knowles. And six of the local school board's seven members are white."
"We warned people about these kinds of things," John Gaskin of the Missouri NAACP told Roth. "Who hires the police officers? The police chief. Who hires the police chief? The mayor. Who hires the mayor? Who elects the council folks?"
As the Times' Lapidos goes on to note, "Mr. Sharpton did not say that the residents of Ferguson should vote for Democrats; he said they should vote, full stop." She adds: "Isn't it telling that both Mr. Wills and Mr. McLaughlin make no distinction between voter registration and Democratic registration?"
For the record, Ferguson's local elections are nonpartisan.
(Separately, kudos to the Times' Lapidos for describing those two websites for what they are, "right-wing", rather than usual "conservative". It must not have been easy to get that past the Times' editors, even though it's completely accurate. Or maybe the paper has changed their previously unhelpful style rules under their new Executive Editor Dean Baquet, along with this one. Either way, truth in reporting there is accurate, a great change of pace and far more helpful to the electorate.)