A conversation with Black Votes Matter: Get Out the Vote Director

Feb. 8, 2024, 5 a.m. ·

Dwayne Hawkins
Dwayne Hawkins is the new director of the Get The Vote Out initiative within Black Votes Matter. He said his main goal is to get more people to the polls. (Photo courtesy Dwayne Hawkins)

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Dwayne Hawkins works as a pastor and certified strategic planner in North Omaha, but when Preston Love Jr., the founder of Black Votes Matter, approached him to lead the Get The Vote Out initiative, he agreed to take on the new role.

This interview has been edited for time and clarity.

Kassidy Arena: So you're heading into a pretty busy year, we have the primaries, and then we're also heading into the general elections later this year. What is your schedule looking like this year with all of those important elections?

Dwayne Hawkins: It's pretty busy actually. And this is a new world to dive in this deeply, to give leadership to this effort. So, at this point in time, a lot of my time allocation for this is in getting to know the people who are already engaged in this work, so that I don't have to start from scratch. When I engage the community and really specifically targeting city council districts one and two, generally, of course, we want more people to get out-- as many people as possible, but there's really a need to increase voter turnout in those specific geographical areas. So, part of my time is meeting with people who are already doing the work. And then the other part of my time is engaging stakeholder groups in the community and partnering with them and trying to find out if they can be point-people and you know, and how we can engage and collaborate.

Arena: And what are some of those important aspects that you're trying to inform the community about, especially for these upcoming elections?

Hawkins: I'm kind of sifting through that process right now, trying to figure out which one of these things seem to be priority things. But I know, generally speaking, one of the issues is the whole matter of voter ID laws, and making sure the community is informed on what those are and how those impact voting whether it is vote by mail or voting, you know, in person or going to the actual Douglas County Commission Office and casting your ballot. That one I know is very significant. And there's a host of others. And I'm in the process of kind of weeding through that process to elevate those before the community.

Arena: So, Omaha and the district that Omaha is in is kind of in a unique position as far as general elections, what with being able to… Nebraska can split our electoral college votes. And typically, you'll see that Omaha can almost hold its own electoral vote, how has that relatively unique aspect of Nebraska entered into your considerations as far as getting the vote out?

Hawkins: In our last presidential election, you know, there was that one little blue dot in Nebraska, and we had an elector to represent us to go and cast that vote. That type of energy is momentum building, to say we have the power to do that. And so just to give you a bigger sense, you know, these efforts for registration and turnout are bipartisan, but they impact a lot of things, you know, and to increase voter registration and voter turnout really empowers the people-- that their vote can have national implications. Because some of these national races are so very tight.

Arena: We're in an area where there's a lot of those in the 18 to 24 age range, what would you like to say to them?

Hawkins: Your vote matters. Your voice matters. I think acknowledging that their voice matters is probably primary to your vote matters. And that is one of the things, some of the initiatives of the Black Votes Matter organization, is strategically targeted at civics for young people and helping them understand civics in high school and taking the Black history tour. Some of those things, if we can do those things earlier on… and when I think about my history with voter registration and turnout, it started in high school and my senior year world history class is where I was registered to vote. And I think I would say to them start early. Understand civics, know that your voice matters and if your voice matters, then your vote ought to be counted.

Arena: Elaborate a little bit more on why you started out with your vote matters, then you choose to add your voice matters. Why is that an important differentiation to make?

Hawkins: I think it's an important differentiation because there is a group of people in the community that feel like their voices are not heard. And that is very broad. That is not a politically-based statement. There are people who are just hurting in life in general. And if I put on my pastoral hat for a second, one of the things that I'm really passionate about is: What does pastoral care look like in a post-pandemic world? You know, how do we care for people? And a part of that process starts with being present. It starts with listening, demonstrating empathy, meeting people's underlying needs, and just the whole dynamic of care. In general, I feel the need for that has increased dramatically since the pandemic, and to take the time to care for people and to promote internal healing. And those types of things really say to people that they matter. And so my perspective is not just about voting per se, that there's a bigger dynamic to say that a part of that is a response to you being cared for. And I think that that is embedded in backtracking from your vote matters, and taking a step back and say your voice matters. And why does your voice matter? Because you are valued as an individual and worthy of being treated with love, dignity and respect. And those fundamental things for me kind of drive and say this effort is an extension of what care looks like.

Arena: How does one register to vote?

Hawkins: That is a wonderful question. I'm so glad you asked. In the month of January and February, one of our focuses is on preparing people for vote-by-mail. And in order to do vote by mail, you have to request it and there is an actual form...that has to be completed using the new voter ID laws. And then that gets sent in and ultimately, the vote-by-mail ballot will be sent mailed out. And so I would say start there, get registered and get a vote-by-mail request form.

To register vote, change your address on your voter registration record, change your party affiliation or change your name on your voter registration record, click here.

For more information about how to register to vote, access a mail-in ballot and more, visit the Nebraska Secretary of State website.

For more information about the voter ID law, click here.