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Rochester groups launch effort to boost voter turnout

Frustrated by high housings costs, medical student Jamal Ismail wants to see change in Rochester.

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Jamal Ismail, center, on Tuesday takes part in a discussion of local issues with Pam Franz, left, and Kathy Cieslak, right, all of Rochester, during a "Give Us the Ballot " voter drive at Rochester Community Baptist Church in Rochester. Ismail said his top issue is affordable housing.
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Frustrated by high housings costs, medical student Jamal Ismail wants to see change in Rochester.

"Housing is the big issue, because right now if I want to buy a house, it's going to take forever," Ismail said.

So on Tuesday, Ismail registered to vote as part of an initiative launched by Rochester groups to boost voter turnout in the 2018 election by 1,000 voters. He was one of about 25 people gathered for the voter drive in the basement of Rochester Community Baptist Church on Tuesday night.

Communities United for Rochester Empowerment, Rochester for Justice, the NAACP and faith group ISAIAH are leading the voter mobilization effort. The goal is to get more low- and middle-income voters active in politics. The groups' agenda includes pushing for more affordable housing, living wage jobs, public transportation and quality education.

Che Lopez, a community organizer with CURE, told those gathered that the goal is to reach out to people who have never voted before and get them involved.

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"We need to get them out. We need to motivate them. We need to inspire them, to give them hope that the issues we are bringing to the elected officials are the ones that are impacting them," he said.

Rochester residents Jaclyn and Michael Walters were there to hear the discussion. The couple say the high cost of child care is a huge challenge. They have two daughters and a baby due in February.

"I'd love to see child care addressed. There has been a huge deficit in child care and it's honestly really upsetting to me because we are priced out of all the child care. I stay home with the kids," she said.

Kamau Wilkins, founder of Rochester for Justice, said his organization will specifically be focused on getting youths of color engaged in politics. That could include getting them registered to vote, volunteering as door knockers or even talking to family members about the importance of voting. He said these steps could make a huge difference in Rochester elections because some local races have been decided by 400 or 500 votes.

He warned the small gathering at the church not to get discouraged, saying it takes time for a movement to take hold.

"It always starts with a small group of people that have the motivation of something because they really believe," he said.

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