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Leaders expect strong black voter turnout

By Justin Boron

Quiana Morrison has deep-seated convictions about her vote this year because her brother was sent to Iraq to fight a war that she said unnecessarily put his life at risk.

Morrison will be voting Democrat.

She is one of the more than 12,500 registered Clayton County voters who are black and whom community activists believe could contribute a large chunk of the Democratic vote in Georgia.

With two weeks to go before the polls open, the black vote is becoming increasingly important for county leaders like Gail Davenport, who was a delegate for the Democratic National Convention this year.

Davenport and NAACP leaders are urging black voters to turnout in Clayton County because they say the group could play a role in overcoming Republicans in both the presidential race and the Senate race between Democrat Denise Majette and Republican Johnny Isakson.

"We have a chance to elect a black senator," Davenport said.

The Clayton County branch of the NAACP has attempted to galvanize the black vote through several registration drives and by coordinating rides to the polls, said Dexter Matthews, the branch president.

"A big reason to vote is the presidential election," he said. "We're not giving up Georgia."

Another reason community leaders are pushing blacks to the polls is the historical significance of voting rights.

"I go way back and remember when we didn't have the right to vote, and there was a lot of blood shed, now we have a responsibility to vote," Davenport said. "You count if you go and vote."

Matthews and Davenport both promised a strong turnout from black voters.

But concerns about institutionalized discouragement of the black vote have prompted calls for reform both locally and nationally.

The NAACP issued a press release that cautioned against the use of armed guards at the polls n as a result of possible terrorist threats ? saying it could be seen as a mode to intimidate minority voters.

"We think that sending hundreds of armed police officers to polling places could be seen as an effort to depress the vote," said Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP president and chief executive officer.

In Clayton County, worries about the amount of diversity at the polls have surfaced as well.

Many of the poll workers have been predominantly white workers in the past, Davenport said.

"If you've got 10 poll workers at a site and not one black worker, that's something that needs to be addressed," she said.

With blacks taking up a majority of the county's population, black representation has increased on a political level, but from an administrative standpoint there is still room for improvement, Matthews said.

"We do want more representation at the polls since we are 60 percent of the county," he said.

Efforts to balance the demographics between poll employees have been led by the county's election and registration director, Annie Bright, who is black.

"I have instructed the poll managers to make sure there is diversity in all of the precincts," she said.

But beyond handing down marching orders, there is little that can be done to ensure poll diversity since race is not included on the application for the jobs, Bright said.

The poll managers receive a supplementary list with names and no race information, she said.

Neither lack of diversity nor armed guards will deter Morrison though. She said the energy of this year's election trumps any undercurrent of racial tension.

"It doesn't matter who is working at the polls, we're still going to vote," she said.