When it comes to getting young people to vote, Charles G. Davis believes it's all about the "bling bling." So on Nov. 2, the Prince George's County businessman will offer free stretch-limousine rides to the polls.
"The brighter the bling, the more the attraction. The more the attraction, the greater the interest. I believe if we get them interested, we can get them to the polls," said Davis, 51.
Forget Rock the Vote. This is Stretch to Vote.
The goal of the nonpartisan effort, Davis said as he kicked off the campaign this week, is to convince 18- to 30-year-olds, as well as residents of any age who live in low-income neighborhoods, that they need to make their voices heard.
"Prince George's County has so many resources, yet in a lot of ways we're underserved, and I think we're underserved because some of the people in our districts are not voting," Davis said. His nonprofit Let Us Keep Engaged Foundation, an arm of his Greenbelt consulting business, Technology, Automation & Management Inc., will cover the approximately $20,000 cost of renting 18 vehicles for the day -- not just Lincoln stretch limousines, but also the even more luxurious stretch Cadillac Escalades and Humvees.
Two limos will be stationed at locations in each of the county's nine council districts from 7 to 11 a.m. and from 4 to 8 p.m. They will pick up and drop off voters, focusing on areas that have historically had low turnout, particularly communities inside the Capital Beltway, organizers said.
Miguel L. McCloud, an Upper Marlboro resident whose limousine company usually handles weddings and funerals, will provide most of the vehicles. He called some of his competitors to round out the fleet.
"I feel honored, really," McCloud said. "That's why I'm taking my little shop and helping him."
Other community organizations, including the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association for minority lawyers in Prince George's and Montgomery, have agreed to co-sponsor the event, and vendors have been asked to donate food.
The liquor bars in the stretch limos will remain empty, however. This is Election Day, not prom night.
"We will have bottled water. No alcohol," Davis said.
Other community organizations have come up with less elaborate ways to stimulate turnout. The Prince George's chapter of the NAACP, for example, has persuaded five churches to each donate a van and a driver. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., voters will be picked up, taken to the polls and returned to their homes, said June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's NAACP.
"We know that there are a lot of people who simply do not have transportation or may be elderly or infirm in some way and need to vote," Dillard said, "and we want to be able to provide that opportunity for them."
Davis, an Air Force veteran who was raised in poverty by his grandmother in South Carolina, is unapologetic about his more ostentatious effort.
"Presidents ride in limousines," he said. "Diplomats ride in limos. They don't ride in Hondas, and diplomats are important, and voters are important, too. Why can't the underserved people ride in limousines, too?"
Davis said he was inspired by his 18-year-old son, a student at Norfolk State University, who told him during a long car ride over the summer that people his age love the "bling." Davis spotted a limousine and decided that would be his bling of choice.
"I don't want to create an environment where I'm promulgating stereotypes, but an 18-year-old engages differently than a 30-year-old, a 30-year-old engages differently than a 40-year-old," he said. "Our society is made up of a spectrum, so you have to communicate to that whole spectrum to get the most returns.
"If it works, who cares?"