Residents of Ferguson, Mo., cast their votes at a local polling place Nov. 4, 2014. Community leaders are hoping for high voter turnout among African Americans in municipal elections April 7, 2015.
Scott Olson

"When people on the left get mad, they march. When people on the right get mad, they vote. From the standpoint of influencing government, voting beats marching," said former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank during a TV interview March 28.  

In that interview, Frank was talking about the Occupy movement, but the sentiment could easily apply to what goes on in Ferguson, Mo., Tuesday, when the city holds its municipal elections.


In a city where the last election only brought out 6 percent of eligible African Americans, turnout is the difference between change and more of the same.

"I attach tremendous significance to this election. This is the first election post-Mike Brown, and my opponent does not court African Americans at all, and that's two-thirds of the people in this ward," Ferguson city council candidate Bob Hudgins told The Root Thursday.  


Asked if he thought there would be an uptick in turnout Tuesday, Hudgins said, "There has to be. A year ago it was 12 percent in this ward. If it's 12 percent on Tuesday, I will lose."

There was a lot of talk about registering voters after several weeks of protests last year following the police shooting death of Michael Brown, but results have been tepid. According to one report, only 128 new voters were registered by October 2014, after almost three months of demonstrations. Many young protesters are pushing for change through other means. 


The Department of Justice's report on racial discrimination in Ferguson has already resulted in the resignations of Ferguson's police chief, city manager and a municipal judge.

Historically, Ferguson has had very low voter turnout, leading to a majority-white city government where the mayor, City Council and police chief are white, as well as 94 percent of the police force. The weak turnout has been blamed on everything from how municipal elections are held on odd years instead of the even years of congressional and presidential elections to the transient nature of the city’s black population.


Over the last two months, more than 100 college students have been in Ferguson donating time to get-out-the-vote efforts, voter education and registration work in Ferguson. Candidates running on platforms that reflect the concerns of protesters are hoping that the same people who turned out to march will turn out at the polls.

Only three African Americans have run for the Ferguson City Council in the past 120 years, despite the fact that the city has grown more and more African American. Ferguson is currently 67 percent black. Looking to change this, on Tuesday, four African Americans are running for the council in Ferguson’s three wards. 


In Ward 2, a white former mayor of Ferguson is running against Hudgins, a white protester who is part of a slate of "change" candidates backing the protest agenda, including Ella Jones in Ward 1 and Lee Smith in Ward 3. 

Hudgins, who was endorsed by St. Louis' black newspaper, the St. Louis American, said that as he's been campaigning, he has seen people who have no history of voting signal more involvement and interest. "People are starting to join in, and I think it's a good sign," he said.    


Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes partly views Hudgins' race as a moment to show people that there are whites who advocate for black equality. That view is reflected in what many have said about Hudgins in interviews with The Root

"It's not just about black candidates. Everybody who's black is not going to necessarily advocate for equality and focus on your issues. All skinfolk ain't kinfolk. Just because someone doesn't look like you doesn't mean they can't be an advocate for you," Bynes told The Root.


"If people want to fight and stand up for what's right regardless of the color of their skin, the community will be behind that," she added.

For months, Bynes has been engaged in the not-so-glamorous work of on-the-ground grassroots politics. She said, "There is going to be an increase in voter turnout. Both Bob [Hudgins] and Lee [Smith] have been told, 'You're the first person who's ever knocked on my door and asked for my vote.' That's the kind of stuff that makes a tremendous difference." 


There will be other campaign activity in Ferguson this Easter weekend.  

The day before Easter, Reps. Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver (both D-Mo.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) were in Ferguson and the neighboring towns of Jennings and Dellwood, knocking on doors and talking with voters. They attended a campaign workshop on civic engagement organized by the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education & Leadership Institute at Wellspring Church in Ferguson. The workshop focused on community canvassing, campaign management and get-out-the-vote strategies. 


"By raising the awareness that there's an election of April 7, we will be hopefully able to generate the turnout we need to make a difference," Clay told The Root during an interview on Capitol Hill. 

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter

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