This month's Streetvibes has an excellent article (written by Lew Moores) about the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP (so give a buck to the next vendor you see and get a copy!). Moores argues that the NAACP has experienced a "renaissance" under the leadership of Chris Smitherman, much as it did under the leadership of Marian Spencer several years ago.
Certainly, Smitherman (with whom I sometimes disagree, but for whom I have a great deal of respect) has revitalized the local chapter of our nation's foremost civil rights organization. Its membership is up dramatically, and over the last couple years, it has helped to shape our local political discourse in ways that it did not during the first part of this decade.
For Smitherman and the NAACP to advance their agenda any further, however, they must develop and put into action a solid get-out-the-vote strategy. Yes, of the three ballot initiatives identified with the NAACP (the "jail tax" opposition, red-light camera opposition, and PR), two passed. But (without diminishing the effort it took to place these on the ballot), these were layups. It's not hard to convince people to vote against the increase of a fundamentally regressive tax or the onerous red-light cameras, which no one seems to like.
This year's election results bear out the NAACP's GOTV failures. In the City of Cincinnati, turnout was just 58%, lagging well behind county-wide turnout of 66%. What's more, of the 134,000 ballots cast, 20,000 (or 15%) recorded no vote (meaning no vote at all, not a "no" vote) on Issue 8, which would have brought a return to proportional representation in City Council elections. Local races and issues always receive a significant undervote, but Issue 8's undervote is extraordinarily high: Issue 7 had just under 13,000 undervotes (about 9 percent).
Of the two NAACP-backed initiatives on this year's ballot, certainly Issue 8 would have had a greater overall impact on Cincinnati than on Issue 7, making it the more important of the two. (In fairness: Issue 8's undervote is likely due in part to extremely poor ballot placement, as it was the only contest on the last page of a four-page ballot. Some voters may not have even realized it was there.) With Issue 8 failing by just 8,000 votes and 20,000 voters participating in the election but sitting out the Issue 8 contest, the NAACP failed to either a) educate the public about the issue, or b) get its supporters to the polls.
While the Cincinnati NAACP still has some work to do, it's terrific to see the re-emergence of this important voice in our community, and it will be exciting to see the continued growth of both the organization and its president.
(Current vote tallies available here.)