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One Group Determined To Get Out The Vote, One Ride At A Time

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Tim Stevens, the chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, is organizing volunteers to drive voters to polling places Tuesday.

Tim Stevens waited inside the Meineke auto repair shop in Larimer for his car’s tune up, just in time for Election Day. He sorted through bags of flyers that he had taken out of the backseat of his car.

“Get Out and Vote!” and “Roll to the Polls” were printed on the neon orange papers.

Stevens is the chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project – or B-PEP – and for decades, the group has organized volunteers to drive voters to their polling places. He said that mostly seniors take advantage of the service, but it’s offered to all voters in predominately black neighborhoods in the East End and North Side.

It’s an attempt to limit one barrier to voting, a civic duty many people fought for, he said.

“We vote in each and every election,” he said.

It’s one of the mantras of the organization. Stevens called it political mathematics.

“If we vote more consistently – not just when there’s a Barack Obama running or an Al Sharpton, or a Jesse Jackson, but in any election – we will be a voting force,” he said.

Stevens said senior citizens are particularly dedicated to voting.

“They went through the fight for the right,” he said. “For 20 years of my life, in certain parts of the United States of America, black people could not vote. So as people my age die off, so will the knowledge that this right to vote (was hard-fought) ...There was no question they were going to show up.”

In the past two presidential elections, the neighborhoods B-PEP offers transportation to have kept pace with the county’s overall voter turnout. Most neighborhoods reported between 60 and 65 percent turnout. In 2012, the county saw 67 percent of voters cast a ballot.

But Stevens said that’s not good enough. He’s concerned that younger voters have become apathetic to the election.

“We have gone away from voting—as a people,” he said. “I don’t mean as a race of people. White people aren’t voting as much as they used. Black people have moments where we aren’t voting as much as we certainly should be. There’s a complacency about voting. There’s a feeling by some that it doesn’t matter who’s elected.”

B-PEP also organizes a program called Election Projection, where volunteers answer phones on Election Day to track instances of voting difficulties, harassment or intimidation at polling places.