Encourages Voter Turnout 5th Annual Unity Picnic Replaced with Drive-Though Accommodations due to COVID-19

The Urban League of Greater Madison held a community drive-through barbecue event, with a purpose. 

Typically, the summer is set aside to host the annual Unity Picnic. But with the general election week’s away and the state battling coronavirus cases, the celebration morphed into a “Souls to the Polls” event where one could register to vote, learn about absentee voting, complete the census, and grab a plate of delicious barbecue, without ever getting out of their vehicle.

Held Aug. 29 on the Urban League grounds, the Souls to the Polls movement is part of a national faith-based movement to register and inform potential voters in primarily African American communities. Organizations such as the Urban League of Young Professionals, the National Council of the Urban League Guild and the League of Women Voters of Dane County participated in the get-out-the-vote efforts.

The parking lot of the Urban League off Park Street on the city’s South Side, resembled a fast-food, take-out restaurant, complete with curbside orders taken with clipboard menus and runners to deliver drinks and meals  ̶  all while adhering to social distancing and safety mandates.

Lip-smacking, high-quality barbeque was provided by Darren Price from BP Smokehouse and Kipp’s Cuisine.

Record high numbers of people plan to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to polling and absentee ballot data. Because voting by mail is an unfamiliar process to many, the Urban League has stepped up to educate voters who may feel a bit intimidated, according to Dr. Ruben L. Anthony Jr., CEO and president of the Madison office.

“It’s important that we begin to make people aware that they need to vote early,” Anthony said. ”A lot of people are concerned whether the post office and the mail system will have the capacity to handle the serge of voting through the mail. To avoid any problems and make sure your vote gets to the right place early, we’re encouraging people vote early.” 

No matter where someone lives, the color of their skin, or how much money they make, all need to know and exercise their right to have their voices heard when turning in their ballots.

“This year we do have to vote like our lives depends on it,” Anthony said. “People really need to exercise their civic duty. We need them to help us select a president that will have the best interest of the country in mind and meet the goals and priorities of people of color.

“As we have seen through the civil rights movement and as we see with the protesting it is important that we elect a president that will support equal justice for all Americans. And we need to make sure that policing, and how that’s dispensed in our communities, is done through a lens justice and equality. And, that the justice for Black people is the same justice that white people have seen,” he added.

The Urban League is nonpartisan organization. Its goal is to arm voters with resources necessary to increase voter turnout. The Nov. 3 ballots will include a presidential election, elections for specific state Assembly and Senate districts, as well as an election for the House of Representatives.

“At least 50 people registered to vote and at least 50 people submitted an absentee request,” said Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. “So, the Urban League’s event was a huge success.”  

Voting Information for Wisconsin’s Nov. 3 General Election

  • Voters may verify their registration, polling place, sample ballot, and absentee ballot status at My Vote Wisconsin (MyVote.wi.gov).
  • To register by mail your voter registration form, along with proof of residence, must be postmarked
    to your municipal clerk no later than Oct. 14.
  • To register to vote online (MyVote.wi.gov), voters who can match their name, date of birth, Wisconsin Driver License or State ID number, and address with the Wisconsin DMV can register to vote online through Oct. 14.
  • To register at the Municipal Clerk’s Office, voters may register in-person during the clerk’s business hours until 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.  
  • All voters in Wisconsin can request an absentee ballot be mailed to them for any reason.  Voters must be registered before they can request an absentee ballot.  Voters may request their absentee ballot on MyVote.wi.gov. Deadline to request an absentee ballot is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29.