Souls to the Polls inspires South Floridians to go straight from church to the voting booth

Susannah Bryan, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·5 min read

As rain clouds looked over Riviera Beach, hundreds of voters and volunteers turned out to vote and show support for local and national candidates at “Souls to the Polls” Sunday.

The event was organized by national faith-based organization Faith in Florida and encouraged Florida voters to go straight from church to their polling place.

The Wells Recreation Center in Riviera Beach serves as an early voting site for county residents.

The site saw a steady stream of voters Sunday afternoon, but no long lines seen at some early voting sites in South Florida.

At the height of the line, about five voters were seen outside the building.

An unarmed security guard directed foot traffic and enforced social distancing in the building and in the line outside.

Kelvin Bledsoe is the parliamentarian of the Palm Beach chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which collaborated with every Black fraternity and sorority.

Bledsoe and his volunteers were handing out water to voters, workers and other volunteers. He said he brought 1,000 water bottles and had already spoke to about 100 voters at around 2 p.m. Sunday and was expecting another 200 to 300 over the course of the day.

He said his group is nonpartisan and doesn’t tell people how to vote, but just wants to make sure people are safe and hydrated when they come to cast their ballot.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you get thirsty,” he said.

Maria Cole is a volunteer with Blue Wave Coalition, a Democratic organization that does text messaging campaigns, voter registration drives and voter education.

Cole and a few other volunteers handed out ballot information, as well as masks, snacks, coffee and water to voters.

“I’m feeling good,” she said about turnout Sunday. “The thing for us, especially in Riviera Beach, is community engagement."

”It’s really important that we don’t just show up at the last minute asking people for their vote, but that we’re here all the time, talking to people about the issues," Cole continued. “That’s the deep organizing work that we’ve been doing for a very long time and it’s only during election time that that work pays off.”

Kevin Anderson, chairman of the Palm Beach County chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi’s alumni association' civic affairs committee.

Kappa Alpha Psi is one of the organizations that works with the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

Anderson is inspired by the flow of voter’s he’s seen and spoke with Sunday, which he said was much busier than the day before, which he largely attributed to the rain.

Margaret Bess, 66, of West Palm Beach, voted already and showed up to encourage people to vote.

Joe Biden got Bess’s vote because he cares about people more than money, she said: “The economy is important, but it’s not the most important thing. People matter, no matter what color or ethnic race they are.”

Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was a big factor for Bess, who said she thinks Biden will be more receptive to the advice of public health experts.

“A lot of people have died as a result of the virus,” Bess said. “People are still dying, and there will probably be a lot more people dying, based on what medical science says.

”Wendy Sartory Link, Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, came to Riviera Beach to check on how things were going and take photos with volunteers.

Despite most of the volunteers belonging to nonpartisan organization, the street outside the red center were lined with almost exclusively democratic lawn signs, in addition to local, nonpartisan candidates.

Richard Ryles said he voted for Biden because he thinks the former Vice President is more aligned with his values.

In past elections, he has voted for democratic and republican candidates, but said this year that every democrat on his ballot better represented his stances.

“He offers the country a better opportunity to fix some of the things that are systemic that need changing,” the 58 year old attorney from West Palm Beach said from under his umbrella. “As an African American, we have to understand the importance of this election and that neither rain nor sleet should keep us from voting.”

In Broward County, dozens of voters gathered at a Souls to the Polls event in Hallandale Beach on Sunday to rally for the chance to be heard on Election Day.

“We’re celebrating getting out the vote,” said Katrice Johnson, a Hallandale Beach resident and organizer with the non-partisan group Faith in Florida.

“We don’t care who you vote for. We just want you to vote.”

The crowd included a 6-month-old baby boy and an 82-year-old woman and every age in between, including millennials, Johnson said.

“They are so important for this election,” she said. “We need them to vote.”

Earlier in the day, a caravan of 70 cars drove a few blocks south to the early voting site near City Hall to deliver their mail-in ballots.

Minister Tim Griffith, of Pembroke Pines, took the stage and encouraged the crowd to attend next Sunday’s Souls to the Polls event at Hopewell Baptist Church in Pompano Beach.

“It’s bigger than you,” he said of the upcoming election, “Tell your sons, tell your daughters, send out a mass text message (to get out the vote).”

Griffith says the group is visiting barbershops and nail salons in an effort to get people to the Polls.

“Breonna Taylor’s blood is on this ballot,” he said. “Ahmaud Arbery’s blood is on this ballot. Jacob Blake. George Floyd, Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin.”

Griffith reiterated that no one is telling anyone how to vote.

“We’re telling the Millennials since (George Floyd and other Black people who died in police custody) are not here to vote, we need you to vote for them.”

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