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Americas

Souls to the polls in Cincinnati

media Studying the text at Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Sarah Elzas

Many African Americans in Cincinnati, Ohio, are convinced that their right to vote is being challenged in the run-up to the election. To counteract what they call voter intimidation, pastors of African American churches on Sunday encouraged their parishioners to join them after services to go to the early voting centres that have been opened in each county in Ohio since early October.

"Traditionally African American people love celebrating on Sunday. We love having big Sunday meals," says Reverend Joseph Copeland, a Democracy fellow with the Amos project, which organised Sunday's 'Souls to the Polls' operation.

Report at Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church 05/11/2012 Listen

Church vans were on hand to drive people to the early voting centre downtown after services at Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

"We're really excited because we have the weekend back, as we had in 2008," Copeland says, referring to a legal battle last month over early voting hours. Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, John Husted, had tried to restrict early voting hours, closing the polls on the weekend before the election. This was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court.

Copeland says he encourages everyone to vote as early as possible.

"Anything can happen! Obviously this isn't like New York: we don't have too much to worry about hurricanes and the like, but anything can happen and you may not be able to vote. Let's get it done early and get it out of the way."

Pastor Donald Jones speaks to the congregation Sarah Elzas

Greater New Hope's pastor, Donald Jones, preached a more political-than-usual sermon on Sunday.

"God needs you to vote. Tell everybody to vote," he told the congregation.

Afterwards, he explained his sermon, entitled 'God's divine selection', in which he talked of Moses as God's chosen leader, who wins out over those trying to overthrow him.

"God divinely chooses leaders, and he chooses men, who are not his followers, to chastise his own people," he says. "God chooses leaders, and it doesn't matter how many people oppose. God has a power to keep them in the leadership position."

Jones stops short of explicitly naming President Barack Obama in this context, as churches, which have tax-exempt status, are not allowed to endorse candidates.

"I allow the people to come to their own conclusions," he says diplomatically.

Campaigning within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling station Sarah Elzas

"If they believe that he is God's choice, then it's their prerogative to do what's necessary. The Bible says that God is concerned about those who do justly, and love mercy and walk humbly before him. So you can't go wrong if you vote your conscience."

He says he is more concerned about getting out the vote than who the vote is for.

Most of his congregants have already voted, but people from other churches have come for a quick lunch in the church's basement before getting into the vans to head downtown.

Joanne Henry came with five of her co-workers, as well as her 18-year old son who is voting for the first time.

"I was going to wait until Tuesday to vote, but since they were going down there today, I said, I'll go today," she says, over a plate of chicken and collard greens.

Special dossier

The line at the early voting centre circled the block, with waits of up to two hours. People patiently waited for their turn to vote as campaigners handed them literature, and kids sold candy bars.

Joanne Henry and her son eventually made it through.

"This was my first time voting," says Edwin Henry. "It's a good cause, you know. We need a black president!"

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