WestSouthwest: New Kalamazoo NAACP President Tackles Voters' Complaints

Dec 15, 2016

Second Baptist Church Pastor Strick Strickland is the new president of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

A young minister and activist named Strick Strickland is the new president of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP. It was the sudden death of veteran civil-rights leader Charles Warfield over the summer that put the 34-year-old Strickland in the top spot during a national presidential election year, and so Strickland says his tenure has begun handling voter suppression complaints on Election Day in November. On today's WestSouthwest public-affairs show, Strickland tells WMUK's Earlene McMichael that seven Kalamazoo County voters from the same polling site have come forward with allegations, which were forwarded to the Michigan NAACP State Conference for review. (Click the icon to hear about this and more.)

Strickland says that the seven voters -- six African-American women and one Hispanic male -- contend polling staff "discouraged" them from voting because they did not have picture identification. 

Charles Warfield, former Kalamazoo NAACP president
Credit Kalamazoo NAACP

Since 2007, Michigan law has required voters present a picture identification at the polls; people may still cast a ballot if they sign an affidavit saying they don't have proof of identity on them.

Strickland says the seven voters entered the voting precinct, waited in line and made it to a polling worker. In the end, five of them were able to cast ballots. Two people never did; they exited the precinct and did not return, Strickland says in a half-hour interview with McMichael on WestSouthwest.

Of the five complainants who ultimately voted, one woman was only able to do so because she was insistent and refused to leave, Strickland says. The four other voters left the line, but were finally allowed to vote after Strickland says he coached them over the phone on what to say to polling staff upon their next voting attempt. 

Strickland served as an election challenger during the November election, he says. Under the law, the role of challengers, who are appointed by qualified organizations and political parties, is to observe voting precincts to prevent irregularities.

Strickland declined to specify the polling site with the seven complaints, saying the allegations are still under review by the NAACP. 

Is it possible polling workers simply misunderstood the voter identification law?

"I really don't know," Strickland tells McMichael. "...I would like to think that our county does a good job of making sure that all of our people are educated and understand the process thoroughly. But, you know, that's not always the case. It quite possibly could have been out of ignorance. But, whatever it is related to, it is still just as unacceptable and we have to make sure those types of things don't happen."

Kalamazoo County Clerk Timothy Snow
Credit Courtesy photo

When reached today by McMichael by phone, Kalamazoo County Clerk Timothy Snow said poll workers are instructed to let voters without identification vote if they fill out an affidavit. "We cover it, and cover it and cover it," he said, referring to the training sessions he leads for election workers. "It is a huge part of the training."

No one central agency is in charge of the training, however. Snow said half of the workers from the county's 108 polling sites are personally trained by him, and the remainder are trained by local municipalities, including Kalamazoo, Portage and Oshtemo Township.

Snow said the NAACP has not contacted him yet.

"If we don't know the (voting) precinct, there's not a lot we can do to make it better," Snow said. "That's something I'd like to try to figure out because it's important to me."

Strickland says the NAACP's practice on Election Day is to run complaints through its internal channels first, and then contact external officials if the organization's investigation, upon its completion, warrants it. 

Strickland became president of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP when Charles Warfield died in June, initially appointed in an interim capacity for 30 days.

Then Strickland successfully ran for the final months of Warfield's term that was due to expire this month. Recently, the membership elected Strickland to an additional two-year term, which begins in January. 

For the last few years, Strickland has been community coordinator for the Kalamazoo NAACP branch and chaplain for the Michigan NAACP. He is also chairperson of the Law and Justice Committee of Kalamazoo's Northside Ministerial Alliance.

Strickland moved to Kalamazoo in 2012 from Mississippi to become pastor of Second Baptist Church, again filling big shoes. The congregation, located at 609 N. Rose St. in the city, had been headed for 39 years by the Rev. Matthew Wright. Wright retired in 2009, passing away the following year.

WestSouthwest airs Mondays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on the FM dial at 102.1 on WMUK, an NPR station based at Western Michigan University.