Down the street from where the body of Michael Brown lay for hours after he was shot three weeks ago, volunteers have appeared beside folding tables under fierce sunshine to sign up new voters. On West Florissant Avenue, the site of sometimes violent nighttime protests for two weeks, voter-registration tents popped up during the day and figures like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. lectured about the power of the vote. In this small city, which is two-thirds African-American but has mostly white elected leaders, only 12 percent of registered voters took part in the last municipal election, and political experts say black turnout was very likely lower. But now, in the wake of the killing of Mr. Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white Ferguson police officer, there is a new focus on promoting the power of the vote, an attempt to revive one of the keystones of the civil rights movement.
“A lot of people just didn’t realize that the people who impact their lives every day are directly elected,” said Shiron Hagens, 41, of St. Louis, who is not part of any formal group but has spent several days registering voters in Ferguson with her mother and has pledged to come back here each Saturday. “The prosecutor — he’s elected. People didn’t know that. The City Council — they’re elected. These are the sorts of people who make decisions about hiring police chiefs. People didn’t know.”
N.A.A.C.P. leaders are creating a door-to-door voter registration effort with a jarring reminder as its theme: “Mike Brown Can’t Vote, but I Can.” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, is working with others to hold a “candidate school” for people, including young black residents who say they want to serve on a city council or school board but need guidance on what a political campaign requires.
The attempt to galvanize voting comes against a backdrop of intense political struggles over the ballot in the state. In 2000, polls were kept open late in St. Louis because of long lines, and Republicans complained about possible voter fraud — one chapter in what would be a long battle over elections and voting.