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Activist plans voting rally

The founder of a voter coalition has decided to reactivate the group to register voters and increase voter awareness.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


In the aftermath of last year's presidential election, Florida voters were left to wonder whether their ballots counted.

Many black citizens in particular alleged they were disenfranchised, claiming their names were wrongly purged from registration lists or that they were discouraged from voting.

In response to some of those concerns, the former head of the Tampa branch of the NAACP is organizing a voter registration, education and get-out-the-vote rally. It will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the historically black Beulah Baptist Church at 1006 Cypress St. in Tampa.

Bob Gilder, founder of the nonpartisan Tampa Bay Voter Coalition and the former NAACP leader, said he reactivated the group in the wake of last year's "election fiasco." But he said the education sessions and registration drive are targeted to any and all potential voters, regardless of race or political affiliation.

"There have been concerns all over the nation, and especially in Florida, that some votes were not counted," Gilder said. "Aside from laboring over the votes that were counted or not counted, what the election showed is that there is a clear need for voter education."

"If you register and don't know how to vote properly, then your registering has been in vain," Gilder said.

The Tampa Bay Voter Coalition has been in existence in some form for about 20 years, over that time helping to register about 36,000 voters, Gilder said. The group is a coalition of church and civic groups, businesses and individuals. It has also sponsored political forums.

Gilder said education will be particularly important because many counties are in the process of purchasing new equipment to replace punch-card voting machines. The group also will attempt to make people aware of various carpooling and busing services available on election days, he said.

With the publicity surrounding last year's election, Gilder said he expects there will be heightened interest in the election process. The event Thursday will kick off an effort by the coalition to register 16,000 voters in the next 12 months.

He emphasized that the group is inviting participation from all people.

"This is not just an answer to Democrats being upset," Gilder said. "This is an appeal for people to participate in the political process.

"When elections are close, it lets people know their vote, their one vote, does count."

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