ELECTIONS

State NAACP convention focuses on black voters ahead of midterms

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

It’s no secret that without the support of the black community, Gov. Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial election might have been much closer. In 2017, 94 percent of black voters elected him to office. With the midterm elections inching closer, leaders of the New Jersey NAACP chapter see this as an unprecedented opportunity to harness their votes.

“So, now let me do the math for you, this election is big time,” said NJ NAACP President Richard Smith.

Smith kicked off the annual state convention in Princeton for members. Citing Donald Trump’s election just after the first black president, he says the community has further to go than ever.

“This is the chance to translate that energy into the foundation for real structural change,” he said.

“It is time to go beyond just casting your vote, but holding your legislators accountable to you because they work for you and it’s not the other way around,” said Crystal Charley, chair for the NJ NAACP Annual Convention.

The convention will host several workshops and speakers throughout the weekend. It’s being dubbed the “evolution of the revolution.” Focusing on racial disparities, recruiting new members, policy, legislation and advocacy.

“As we’ve been going throughout the state trying to get people registered to vote, because we’ve been doing this throughout the state, as well as many branches across our conference have been having candidate forums across the state because it’s one thing to tell people they need to go and vote. That’s great, but people need to know who they’re voting for,” said Marcus Sibley, press and publicity chair for the NJ NAACP.

“We are going to target those low-performing areas or those tossup areas where we can really make a difference. So the strategy will be devised beginning tomorrow, so that folks from those particular areas will be able to go back home and carry out the plan that we put in place,” Smith said.

Smith says there are over 400 black women running for office in local, state and national elections. It’s an unprecedented number reflecting their energy for change. But there’s concern turnout could dip, as is customary for midterm elections. The group is planning voter registration sites at churches and community colleges to run interference.

“We’re going to be pounding the pavement. And also we have access to the VAN, the Voter Action Network, and we’re able to look right into that system and see who is a registered voter, who is a nonregistered voter, who is a registered voter but has a bad history of voting in midterm elections, and we can reach out to them directly,” said Charley.

“So the big question is will all the energy of the protests that Trump is generating translate into more people voting?” Smith asked. “Well that’s a big if, but as 2016 taught us, elections have actual consequences.”

With a few hundred people expected to cycle through the conference, they say the message of the convention is mission critical.