As Val’s Cheesecakes celebrated five years of serving sweets in Dallas Tuesday, they held a birthday bash that was about a lot more than cheesecake, encouraging customers to register to vote.
“It’s a special time right now. I think we’re all hyped. We’re all feeling the fever of voting, and I don’t want it to go away,” said owner Val Jean-Bart.
Over the past few weeks, as protesters marched through the city calling for change in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Jean-Bart was there to support them.
But for anyone who would listen, he also encouraged them to vote.
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“Protesting is really nice. Going out there and saying what you need to say is your right to do it for sure. But once you hit the voting booth, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’re tilting the power structure,” said Jean-Bart. “Voting, to me, is the most powerful protest you can have.”
It’s a sentiment that’s been shared around the nation over the last month from those leading marches to George Floyd’s family to former First Lady Michelle Obama.
In turn, some voter advocacy groups have reported a surge.
Within the last month, non-profits Voto Latino and Rock the Vote reported registering 50,000 new voters each to CNBC.
According to UNT Professor of Political Science Kimi King, an uptick in new voters or a shift during an election in the wake of a protest is nothing new.
She said it dates to the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th Century.
It’s a trend that was seen again in the 1960s after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, then again following protests related to the Tea Party movement, unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and the National Women’s March in 2017.
“This isn’t exclusively a liberal or conservative dimension,” said King.
But King points out, this year there's a pandemic to take into consideration. As of March, voter registration was down compared to March of 2016.
There’s also a pandemic that could come into play.
“It’s clear that protests have an impact in terms of registration. What we don’t know is whether that translates at the polls. And this November, we have a bit of a storm as political scientists trying to figure out what that will actually mean why there might be voter suppression in the November election,” said King.
Still, Jean-Bart is optimistic this is the year for change.
As he looks back on his accomplishments five years in, his proudest moment is getting his entire staff registered to vote.
“If that’s the only thing I do. If that’s the only thing I’ve accomplished, I am good. We are good,” said Jean-Bart.
He’ll continue encouraging customers to vote not just in November’s election but in all races where their voices can make a difference.