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Efforts to Channel Protests Into More Votes Face Challenges in Kenosha

“This noise will energize them, but is it going to translate to votes?” Mr. Hall asked. “I doubt it.”

He approached a young woman and man standing nearby and asked if they wanted to register.

“Does my vote really matter?” the woman asked. Before Mr. Hall could respond, she answered for herself. “I know my voice doesn’t count.”

“It’ll only take five minutes,” Mr. Hall told the man, who initially agreed to register, but then changed his mind and said he would do it later.

Nearly 12 percent of Kenosha’s 100,000 residents are Black. The African-American incarceration rate in Kenosha is about 80 percent higher than in Milwaukee, which has the third-highest rate among large metropolitan areas, according to research by Marc V. Levine, the founding director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Black Kenosha residents are 12 times more likely to be locked up than their white neighbors.

Skepticism about the record of Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, on issues of criminal justice are widespread, Mr. Hall said. “They have a history of passing bills or working with the system to incarcerate our people,” he said. “Our people know that, so that’s what makes them unattractive. They haven’t brought anything to the platform to say, ‘Hey, we know we made a mistake in the past, this is what we’re going to do to fix it.’”

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have expressed regret for some of their past positions on criminal justice issues, and have cast those decisions as products of the politics of the era. Both have since voiced support for measures that they say will reduce incarceration like decriminalizing marijuana, promoting treatment for nonviolent drug offenses and ending mandatory minimum sentences.

If dissatisfaction with the candidates is turning off Black voters, so is an overall disenchantment with the system, said Dominique Pritchett, a mental health clinician and community activist in Kenosha. Clients have spoken of fears of even going to the polls because of what they see as voter suppression efforts, she said.

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