Black Men Vote campaign aims to boost voter turnout

Black Men Vote
City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas holds up a Black Men Vote campaign card Tuesday, Feb. 27.
Jack Tomczuk

Four City Council members – all Black men under the age of 40 – gathered next to the Octavius V. Catto Memorial outside City Hall on Tuesday morning to encourage their peers to vote in the 2024 elections.

Catto was murdered in Philadelphia while attempting to vote in 1871, and the four lawmakers are trying to reverse a trend of falling Black voter turnout in the city.

“We realize that when young Black men vote, their voices are heard,” said Councilmember Anthony Phillips, who represents parts of Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia. “If we don’t vote, we get less. If we do vote, we get more.”

Through the Black Men Vote campaign, the elected officials plan to hold registration drives, speak to high school seniors and go door-to-door to encourage Black men to cast their ballots. Their goal is to get 2,024 Black men between the ages of 18 and 40 to register to vote.

Political canvassers typically try to influence those who consistently go to the polls, in an effort to have the best chance to sway a vote; this initiative will do the opposite, Councilmember At-Large Isaiah Thomas said.

“We’re going to specifically target households where Black men haven’t had the best voting record,” he added.

Black Men Vote
City Councilmember Nicolas O’Rourke speaks Tuesday, Feb. 27, at the Black Men Vote campaign launch outside City Hall.Jack Tomczuk

Tuesday’s launch included a poster and cards with a QR code linking to an online form where residents can pledge to vote. The campaign will lead up to the April 23 primary and continue through November’s general election, Council staff said.

Compared to four years prior, turnout in Philadelphia was up 10% in 2023. But, in majority Black and Hispanic precincts, the share of voters who cast ballots was actually down 11% from 2019, an Inquirer analysis found.

“Basically, looking through all of the data, the lower you are in the socioeconomic scale means that you’re less likely to vote,” said Omar Sabir, chair of the City Commissioners, who also spoke at Tuesday’s event.

While the Black Men Vote campaign is nonpartisan, turnout among Black voters in Philadelphia is considered especially important for Democrats. Pew Research Center has reported that 92% of Black voters picked Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Pennsylvania – and, by extension, Philadelphia – is again expected to play a major role in November, which will likely feature a rematch between Biden and former GOP President Donald Trump. There will also be races for U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania attorney general and a host of other positions.

“Black voters helped determine the past few election cycles in Philadelphia, essentially having an impact on elections in the entire nation,” Thomas said.

Black Men Vote
Philadelphia Youth Commission member George Lane, 17, speaks Tuesday, Feb. 27, at the Black Men Vote campaign launch outside City Hall.Jack Tomczuk

George Lane, a 17-year-old junior at Academy at Palumbo, appeared alongside the lawmakers at Tuesday’s news conference. Thomas coached him in basketball, and Lane was inspired to become civically involved, joining the Philadelphia Youth Commission and local NAACP Youth Council.

Though he will not be old enough to vote in April, Lane, of North Philadelphia, turns 18 in October, and he plans to cast his first ballot in the general election. He intends to encourage his classmates to do the same.

“I realized how much of an impact I have on other peers that look like me, showing that it’s possible,” Lane told Metro.