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Volunteer pushes to get the vote out in San Francisco's underserved communities

As primary nears, group aims to boost turnout in underserved SF neighborhoods
As primary nears, group aims to boost turnout in underserved SF neighborhoods 04:48

Primary elections typically post low voter turnout numbers, but the San Francisco elections department and advocacy groups are working around the clock to get out the message for residents to send in their ballots this year.

As of Monday evening, the elections department reported about 15% of eligible voters submitted their ballot, which could put the city on track for historically low voter turnout.

But step by step and door by door, Brandie Bowen is encouraging residents of neighborhoods with 50% or less historic voter turnout rates to vote in the primary election.

"Voting might not be like the magic wand that people saw here, but it's like a really powerful tool," she told CBS News Bay Area.

She's part of an advocacy group that aims to support Black and Brown communities.

In the Bayview neighborhood, the area surrounding Keith Street has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the city. It's also home to 22% of the city's Black community, according to the most recent Census data.

Over 70% of adults in San Francisco are registered to vote, but in this neighborhood, voter registration hovers around 50%. Bowen says it could be due to factors like voter fatigue.

"We have an education crisis, we have a safety crisis and we have so many different economic housing crises that we want them to feel like they have a voice and they have a power in impacting and creating the change that they want to see," Bowen explained.

Voting holds a deeper weight for Bowen, who says she casts her ballot with the reminder that her own great grandmother once couldn't.

"Eventually when she was able to vote, she was going out every election; small local elections or primaries. And all the bigger ones," Bowen said.  "So it was super, super important to me then. And I think even more important to me now."

Voter turnout for the 2022 primary election hovered around 46% city-wide according to the election's department, compared to the last general election in 2020 that saw over 80% voter turnout.

But Bowen says voting in the primary is just as important for residents to vote on ballot measures that can change city policies almost immediately, but particularly for people of color to make their voices heard on policies for housing and public safety.

"There's a little bit of discouragement. I can say, as a black resident in San Francisco, with all the rapid push out that's been happening, that it's sometimes feels like I'm going to the ballot to impact and change a city that I might not be welcomed in, or the family that I'm growing might not be welcomed in in the next few decades," said Bowen. "So just letting people know that whatever they do, the ballot is a tool to keep us here and tool to keep us protected and welcomed and safe in the city."

Each voter guide handed out is a step towards protecting democracy, and protecting this community.

"I do see the impacts of what we're doing," said Bowen. "But there's always more work to be done."

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