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President Of Alabama NAACP On Democrat Doug Jones' Win

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For Democrat Doug Jones to win yesterday's special election in Alabama, pundits predicted he would need black voters to turn out in force. Well, according to exit polls, they did. African-Americans made up as big a share of the electorate yesterday as they did in 2008 for Barack Obama's first presidential election. Turnout was driven by groups like the Alabama NAACP, which ran robust get-out-the-vote campaigns. Earlier today, I spoke with the president of the Alabama NAACP, Benard Simelton.

BENARD SIMELTON: I've been the president for going on nine years now, and we have never had this kind of effort before. And it just showed that people coming together can make a difference in an outcome of an election.

SIEGEL: When you or your volunteers we're talking with people who typically don't vote, what was the argument for getting them out to vote this time?

SIMELTON: Well, the argument was there's things that have to lose if you don't get out and vote. Social Security - it's not a guarantee that that's going to be around for you. And health care - it's not a guarantee that that's going to be around for you. The education system - you know, Alabama is - like so many other Southern states, the education system is in shambles.

Those issues resonated with particularly the African-American voters. And we also brought in - you know, look where the Trump administration is headed. It's taking us backwards, and we cannot allow that to set the tone for where African-Americans will be five, 10 years from now. We need to stop it right now.

SIEGEL: I'm curious, though, about whether you had any doubts as to whether lots of African-American voters would turn out to vote for Doug Jones. Were you concerned?

SIMELTON: Oh, absolutely we were concerned. But things that gave us some indication that this turnout, particularly African-American voters, were going to be higher was the absentee ballots that we saw coming in, the calls that we received from people in the communities saying, you know, where is my polling place? Am I registered to vote? These type calls that came in gave us an indication that people were paying attention to the messages that we were sending out and that they were really taking this election seriously.

SIEGEL: I'm curious. Alabama has a very strict voter ID law in place.

SIMELTON: Yes.

SIEGEL: You need to present photo identification I guess to vote. And the NAACP, your organization, is suing over it.

SIMELTON: Yes.

SIEGEL: Were those ID requirements ultimately a hurdle for many people who were interested in voting, or did good organization trump the voter ID law?

SIMELTON: Well, in this particular case, it certainly trumped the voter ID law. But we will not rest our case because we still think that voter ID is wrong, and it disenfranchise a number of our voters. So we will continue to push for changes to the voter ID law in Alabama.

SIEGEL: It's now over 20 years since then-Democratic Senator Richard Shelby crossed the isle and became a Republican.

SIMELTON: Yeah (laughter).

SIEGEL: The first time that Alabama will have a Democrat representing them in the U.S. Senate.

SIMELTON: Right.

SIEGEL: What does Doug Jones' victory mean for you?

SIMELTON: It signals a change in where this country is going. If we can elect a senator in Alabama that represent moderate issues, then that shows that there's hope for other states in 2018 and, more importantly, that people are not wanting to go backward. We're wanting to go forward. And Roy Moore would have taken us backward, would've helped Trump take us backward even further. His views do not represent those of the average Alabamian. And when he made that statement about slavery, you know, I don't see how a person could make that statement, saying that was when America was great - during slavery time.

SIEGEL: Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, thanks for talking with us today.

SIMELTON: Thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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