Grassroots group wants to get out vote

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Paul O’Malley suspects many of today’s eligible voters don’t appreciate their right to vote. That’s why he’s helping lead a grassroots effort he says is designed to remind people they should exercise that right.

&uot;We’re not sponsoring any candidate,&uot; O’Malley said of the &uot;get-out-and-vote&uot; campaign effort under way now. &uot;We just want people to get back to where they’re supposed to be and exercise that right …

&uot;A lot of people made a lot of sacrifices to get that right to vote … and it doesn’t look like the public really appreciates it.&uot;

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O’Malley, who previously served two terms as a Natchez alderman, worked with with former Adams County circuit clerk Fred Ferguson and former assistant clerk Larry Gardner to organize what they are describing as an informational campaign.

&uot;We started meeting before February about it and, after about three meetings, we said, ‘Well, we’ve talked this thing to death … let’s do it,’&uot; O’Malley said. Ferguson and Gardner could not be reached for comment.

O’Malley said organizers have six teams of volunteers — one for each of the city’s wards — conducting phone and letter-writing campaigns. Each team is led by a volunteer captain.

Each team is &uot;working to contact as many people as they can … to make them more conscious of what they should do,&uot; he said.

And that, according to O’Malley, is vote in the upcoming city elections. &uot;Individuals, race, color and creed are put on the sidelines,&uot; he said.

But some observers have questioned whether the group – whose membership is not seeking publicity and is funding the effort &uot;out of our pockets,&uot; O’Malley said – is geared toward getting out the &uot;white&uot; vote, particularly in response to long-standing similar voter registration efforts for minorities.

&uot;I hope it’s going in the right direction,&uot; said Tony Byrne, who served as mayor of Natchez from 1968 through 1988. &uot;I think a lot of it stemmed from Freddy (Ferguson’s) defeat … but regardless of their motivation, it’s the right thing to try and get people involved.&uot;

Ferguson, who had served two terms as circuit clerk, was defeated in 1999.

O’Malley said this effort is not tied to racial lines, but he did say the group has modeled its grass-roots campaign on the highly successful voter registration campaigns conducted for minorities. &uot;The black community has really tried so hard to get everybody registered,&uot; he said. &uot;In all fairness, they haven’t knocked on our doors … but they have been sort of a model for us.&uot;

The message of this group, O’Malley said, is simple: &uot;We’re trying to tell everybody in every ward they have a vote. … We have one plank, that is to get people to take their right to vote and use it.&uot;

Byrne said he believes the effort has the potential to help combat voter apathy in city and county elections – a problem he said has plagued the area for more than 30 years.

&uot;It really makes you feel very sad&uot; as an elected official, Byrne said of voter apathy. &uot;It makes you even sadder when they come up and say ‘I voted for you’ and I’m looking at the voter rolls and (know) they didn’t come out and vote.&uot;

Getting out to vote, O’Malley said, is the most important message.

&uot;We’re telling people that it’s your right to vote,&uot; he said. &uot;And if you want a good city government, then you need to get out and vote.&uot;