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Black churches adapt to mobilize voters during pandemic

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AP journalists, led by race and ethnicity reporter Aaron Morrison, delivered a deep, well-sourced multimedia package showing how the coronavirus outbreak is forcing Black churches to change the way they mobilize voters during an election that many see as a tipping point.

Every major election year, the voter mobilization effort known as “souls to the polls” is a cornerstone of get-out-the-vote efforts for Black churches. In some states, the efforts are so successful they can tip the outcome in close races. But that effort will look much different in Black communities this year with COVID-19 taking a disproportionate toll on the Black community. To keep their bedrock tradition alive, Black churches are having to adapt.

AP journalists in all formats chronicled those changes, interviewing pastors, congregants and voting rights advocates nationwide. Gone are the crowded bus rides to polling places. In their place are smaller church vans with room for social distancing or ride shares to registration and early voting opportunities. In place of massive door-knocking campaigns, church volunteers are phone-banking and canvasing the homes of specific members to ensure mail-in and absentee ballots are requested and delivered before the deadlines.

Morrison worked with New York news researcher Jennnifer Farrar to include crucial context on how the voter campaign began during the civil rights era,and its importance in the Black community. Images of activists keeping the effort alive on the streets came from photographers Bebeto Matthews in New York and Jim Mone in Minneapolis, with Matthews and New York video journalist Ted Shaffrey teaming up on video edited by producer Emily Leshner.

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