Black Voters Turned Out for Doug Jones After All •

by Osita Nwanevu for

Democrat Doug Jones greets voters outside of a polling station at the Bessemer Civic Center on Tuesday in Bessemer, Alabama.  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Democrat Doug Jones greets voters outside of a polling station at the Bessemer Civic Center on Tuesday in Bessemer, Alabama.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the big questions going into Tuesday’s special election in Alabama was whether the state’s black voters would turn out in large enough numbers for Democratic candidate Doug Jones. On Saturday, HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery wrote that Jones would need black voters to comprise, at the very least, 25 percent of the electorate to be competitive–or, more realistically, turn out at rates close to Obama’s 2008 run, when black voters comprised about 28 percent of the electorate. There was broad skepticism that this was possible. “I hate to say it but he’s no Barack Obama,” state representative and Legislative Black Caucus chair John Knight told CNN bluntly last week.

A Washington Post piece from November reported that black leaders were concerned many in the community were unaware the special election was even happening. A Jones mailer that hamfistedly argued a black candidate with the allegations leveled Moore wouldn’t be viable was loudly criticized and taken as emblematic of the Jones’ campaign’s inability to connect with black voters. The Root’s Michael Harriot wrote that the mailer itself might have cost Jones the election. “The flyer is reductive in its oversimplification of the black mind as only caring about black issues,” he wrote. “While it might not be racist, it is certainly racist adjacent.” Others focused their attention on the efforts of Alabama Republicans to disenfranchise black voters, including a restrictive voter ID law passed in 2011 and currently being challenged NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund.

But despite it all, African-Americans seem to have turned out for Jones in large enough numbers to help carry him to victory. CNN’s exit polls found that black voters comprised around 29 percent of the electorate–perhaps outdoing the Jones’ campaign’s own expectations. The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman wrote that turnout in heavily black counties, including the string of blue counties in the Black Belt bisecting the state, was as much as 77 percent of last year’s presidential turnout. Those figures might have less to do with the high-profile stumping from figures like Sen. Cory Booker and Charles Barkley than with the kinds of grassroots organizational efforts the New York Times detailed on Sunday:

A group called Open Progress is funding a large text message campaign with African-Americans. A nonpartisan group called the Voter Participation Center is reaching over 300,000 black voters here with direct mail and text messages. And NextGen America, a national group funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist, lent an organizer to an Alabama-centric group, Woke Vote, to help mobilize historically black college campuses.

The Alabama special election will be remembered as a highly unusual race that saw the defeat of an almost surreally bad candidate. Nevertheless, one of the lessons that might hold true for Democrats moving forward is that mobilizing black voters in conservative states en masse may be more possible than many imagined–even for candidates not named Barack Obama.

TAKING ACTION: Behind the voter registration text message campaigns • WHNT 19 News

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The deadline to register for the December 12 U.S Senate Special Election is November 27, at 11:59 p.m. online.  Some viewers reached out to WHNT News 19 about text messages they have received saying they were potentially unregistered to vote. When those viewers checked their status, they found they were still registered, causing some confusion.

Secretary of State John Merrill released a statement on Monday saying there were "erroneous" text messages circulating claiming that the recipients of said messages are unregistered voters, when in fact they are registered. But the organizations behind the text message campaigns want to clear the air.

Open Progress is a non-profit whose mission is to restore the voices and the votes of Americans. They were named in Merrill's statement. Co-founder Elizabeth Haynes said they launched their non-partisan text message campaign in response to Merrill's postcard campaign from back in August.

"If you didn't receive that postcard, if your family member threw it in the trash and didn't know how important it was, then you may be marked inactive. That includes voters in Alabama who have been voting for years and years," she explained.

Haynes said they get their information from public voter files, and the response has been largely positive. "We've had people say to us, I'm so glad that you've reached out to me on text message because I wouldn't have picked up my phone."

Forward Alabama is behind another similar campaign that launched on Sunday, one day before the registration deadline. Their non-partisan campaign targeted an estimated 87,000 women who might not be registered to vote.

"It's not a scam, it's not anything people should be afraid of. In fact, if they respond to that, they'll give them the link to be able to go online and register to vote at the Secretary of State's website," said Cindi Branham, Forward Alabama Co-Chair.

She said all databases have flaws, so for those who received the text but are in fact registered, it was not intentional.  "There was no malice intended here, the whole thing was to get people out to vote," Branham explained.

In response to Merrill's statement, Branham went on to say, "This is just honest get out the vote, trying to get people to vote, trying to get people to exercise their rights as American citizens. I'd like to have more information on what his office saw so we could assess that."

For his part, Merrill said his office received four different complaints over the weekend alerting him to the text messages.

"They didn't know how these people got their cell phone numbers, they didn't know how these people were able to contact them, they didn't know why they would contact them, and so it really concerned them," he explained.

In response, Open Progress's Haynes said, "Our program, from the very beginning, is based on self-reported information. We open with a question, are you registered to vote?  And then we take it from there."

To the campaigns, Merrill wants to thank the organizations for their interest in Alabama politics and encouraging people to vote.

"Thank you for utilizing an up to date communication tool to contact people, but please make sure that you let us know when you're trying to work with us, so we can help you accomplish your goal more efficiently and more effectively," he said.

Open Progress started their campaign a little more than a week and a half ago. In that time, they have reached out to more than 120,000 Alabamians, and have helped register more than 550 people so far.

The Alabama chapter of the NAACP, another organization named in Merrill's statement, released a statement apologizing for any confusion, but standing by its voter registration effort, reading in part,  "The messages sent out from the NAACP are not erroneous, it is simply a reminder to voters to make sure they are registered to vote in this upcoming election so that they will not be turned away at the polls."

You can check your registration status here, and register until midnight here.


Open Progress is applying its winning techniques and technology to the upcoming December 12th Special Election for the US Senate in Alabama.

“December 12th is a crucial moment for Alabama,” said Elizabeth Haynes, Co-founder of Open Progress. “The actions by the Secretary of State’s office have led to thousands of Alabama voters being marked ‘inactive’ when, in fact, they vote - and vote regularly.  No voter regardless of political party should feel singled out or intimidated by unnecessary paperwork at the polls on Election Day. But, these ‘inactive’ voters will. We want to fix this for these voters now, before the November 27 registration deadline. It’s urgent that all voters who wish to vote can and can do so without fear on December 12.”


Supporting voter registration is a top priority of Open Progress, which seeks to minimize the influence of money in government and politics. Expanding the electorate and helping all voters vote is a key plank of how Open Progress believes the corrupting power of money can be offset in the United States.

Open Progress and a team of 800+ volunteers are donating their time and energy to reach out via text message to all voters marked inactive so that their registration information can be updated and their status changed to active prior to the December 12th special election. All of the funding behind Open Progress’ Alabama outreach program is donated, with the average donation being $25.

Open Progress knows the power of person-to-person texting, as volunteers in the Open Progress and OPro LLC Text Troop sent over 1.2 million text messages in support of 51 Virginia House of Delegates candidates as well as Mark Herring for Attorney General this year.

Donations in support of our Alabama Voter Registration campaign can be made here


About Open Progress

Open Progress is a 501c(4) not-for-profit started to make the world more just by minimizing the influence of money in government and politics. Working in close partnership with volunteer groups, ballot initiatives, and issue campaigns, Open Progress enables modern ways of reaching people: on-point social media, human-to-human texting, and volunteer- to-opportunity matching. Applying pragmatic approaches means reducing the costs to build an engaged audience, and reduces the heavy dependence on raising money, resulting in digital coalitions that inspire people at the local and district level to act in real life.

End Big Money.  Open Progress.