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Not All Get Out The Vote Efforts Are For a Candidate

Mary Rose Madden

There's a rare nonpartisan group in Baltimore working the voter rosters - making calls, offering rides and just generally nudging folks to the polls.

The folks at the No Boundaries Coalition aren't pushing for a specific candidate. They're just pushing people to vote, in an effort to increase voter turnout in an area that has generally seen low voter turnout numbers. 

Ray Kelly, CEO of the West Baltimore based organization, says neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester, Upton and Madison Park have been forgotten by politicians. There isn’t much money there and not many voters, he explains.

"Politicians cater to their constituencies," Kelly says. And with low voter turnout numbers, politicians don’t pay much attention to those inner city black neighborhoods.

He says the coalition, a non-profit based on Pennsylvania Avenue, began working on issues like public safety and police accountability in 2010. But they turned their attention to voter registration and getting people to the polls in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015 and a U.S. Justice Department report a year later that found city police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

The group was leading discussions around police abuse, that routinely turned political, Kelly says.

So, Kelly and No Boundaries members started going to as many events as they could around their neighborhoods, trying to register voters and connect the issues they'd been discussing to the importance of voting in elections. 

He figures the more voters who turn out in a given precinct; the more politicians will pay attention.

“It makes the politicians aware. It makes them get engage,” he says. “It makes them show their faces. That’s the goal – to actually raise a voice in a community that didn’t feel like they had a voice.”

By the time the November 2016 election came around, they saw some results. 

In 2014, only 7 percent of registered voters voted. By 2106, Kelly says, the number quadrupled. Still, it was less than 30 percent.

"What we've picked up over the years is constant engagement," Kelly says. Keep talking to people, keep registering voters and come Election Day, they make the calls.

“Hey, just reminding you to vote today. You need anything to get there? You know anybody who needs anything?”

On Tuesday, George Buntin was working the phones. Often, he left voice mail messages.

“We’re reminding people to get out and vote and offering services,” he’d say. “If you need a ride we can pick you up and drop you off. You can also register today and vote. Thank you and have a great day.”

He said he’d talked to “six or seven people” in his first hour on the phone.

Kelly says the effort will eventually help those neighborhoods that rarely see politicians begin to build political muscle and get more attention.

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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