This election season, many of us have received endorsement cards, urging voters to pull the lever for a slate of candidates. There was a time when candidates were endorsed based on a required commitment from them to do something specific for the organization and/or community. It seems that today voters do not put a demand on their vote. Voters should be judging candidates in three basic ways: the position they take on issues, leadership qualities, and experience brought to the office.
My mom was born in 1937; she was 35 years old before her Scotlandville community in Baton Rouge had black representation. She told me that prior to having black elected officials, the residents of Scotlandville would look to community leader Acie J. Belton to tell them which candidates had promised to support certain issues in the community. White politicians (federal, state, and local) vying for a particular office would meet with Mr. Belton and he would have a list of requests to enhance the position of the community.
The requests would have to do with jobs, street paving, light poles, credit, arrests … anything that black people did not have equal access to. Mr. Belton would type up a ballot that reflected candidates that had agreed to one or more of the requests. He then copied the ballot on a duplicating machine and personally distributed it to resident voters in the Scotlandville community. After World War II, black veterans such as Acie Belton of Scotlandville organized voter registration drives in order to overcome the disenfranchisement of most African Americans.
In 1946 there were only 137 black voters registered in East Baton Rouge Parish. In the next few years, he and others increased the number of black registered voters in the parish to more than 2,000, mostly from Scotlandville. Knowing that engagement in politics was critical, they and other leaders continued with civil rights activities into the 1960s and later. They established the Second Ward Voters League during this early registration movement and were active in evaluating and endorsing candidates. The Second Ward Voters League lead to the 1972 election of Jewel J. Newman, the first of his three terms on the East Baton Rouge Parish Council as the representative from the Scotlandville area.
I encourage voters to gather information to make the best candidate choices. Today’s endorsement ballots just do not have the same kind of authenticity that my mom described. Endorsement ballots today are for sale or decided upon absent of any kind of pre-determined criteria connected to specific community needs. Voters should become less dependent on being “baby feed” with endorsement ballots.
member, Metro Council