In a new development that many activists believe could spark a political shift, voter registration in St. Louis County has soared since August 9, the day that unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, an election official said on Thursday.
Activists with This is the Movement, one of the grassroots organizations that formed on the ground in the wake of Brown's death and subsequent protests, said of the soaring numbers, "This is what democracy looks like."
Registration booths began popping up throughout the region in August and September as part of the movement that emerged after Brown's death, which included protests against police racism and brutality and calls to address the rampant racial disparities between the city's residents and its government officials. The result is that 4,839 people in St. Louis County have registered to vote since August 9, with 3,287 from Ferguson.
Rita Days, St. Louis County director of elections, said organizations like the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and local fraternities and sororities have all gotten involved in the registration process, among other groups and individuals.
Voters must be registered by Wednesday in order to cast a ballot in the November 4 elections.
Many activists in the area see the soaring registration numbers as an auspicious sign, as early days of protests turned a spotlight on the tense relations between the majority-black residents in Ferguson and their majority-white representatives and police force.
Ferguson, which has a population of less than 22,000, is 67 percent black—but five of its six city council members are white. So is the mayor, James Knowles, a Republican.
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To that end, protesters made the elections one of the most vital focal points of their actions. Organizers who disrupted a city council meeting in St. Louis on September 17 to demand Wilson's arrest and the removal of the county's current prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, from the case told council members that their inaction and dismissal of protester demands would be remembered at the ballot box.
"We will do everything in our power on election day because we see you sitting there with a smug look on your face," one speaker said at the time to Councilman Steve Stenger, who is running for county executive and has a close working relationship with McCulloch. "We will have our say in November when we go to vote."
As Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight points out, "These newly registered voters could easily shake up municipal elections."
"In council elections in the three city wards over the past five years... no candidate has won more than 650 votes," Enten writes.
Eric Davis, Brown's cousin, told USA Today the election could be vital in changing local governments. "There is little to no representation of African Americans," Davis said. "It's basically a government that is Caucasian that is ruling over a class of African Americans. It's almost as if it's apartheid in some ways."
"It could completely change the political landscape, the power structure, the decision making," added Anthony Gray, one of the Brown family's attorneys. "The service to the African American community would almost quadruple because they would be viewed as a credible and legitimate voting block."