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Over the past few weeks, Kansas Citians who scanned their radio dials hoping to hear a little Nelly or Missy Elliot got an earful. The Missouri GOP had tried to infiltrate the Democrats’ base with ads featuring characters who griped, “Baby, there are some real ugly Democrats that have hurt black people and not helped us at all.”

As if that didn’t piss off enough people, bothersome signs started sprouting along Prospect, too.

The signs juxtapose two photos. In one, a smiling blond-haired teacher watches over two white children who are cheerfully absorbed in a computer lesson. The caption reads: “They Vote.” The second photo shows a pouty black boy in an empty, darkened classroom. Its caption: “We don’t.”

“They’re outrageous,” says City Councilman Troy Nash. He isn’t sure where the signs are coming from. But, he says, “We know who’s not doing it. It’s not the Democrats.”

“It’s awful. I think that’s disgraceful and disrespectful to black people,” says Carol Coe, who speculates that the signs are Democrat Jean Carnahan’s.

In fact, the signs come from former U.S. Representative Alan Wheat and Archie Welch, who used to head Freedom Inc., the city’s long-standing black political club. The two men are president and state chair, respectively, of the Let’s Go Vote 2002 Project.

Welch tells the Pitch that the organization created the signs after focus groups helped them think up ways to get black and Hispanic voters to the polls. The nonprofit, nonpartisan group — now operating in ten states — prefers using signs and posters because, as Welch put it, “A lot of minorities, they don’t have TVs.”

But the campaign won’t make people vote, says 22-year-old Summer Spates. One of the signs was planted at a strip mall at 12th and Brooklyn, where Spates works at Gates Barbecue. “It’s going to make them angry,” Spates says.

The message is true, though, according to Mark Bryant, current president of Freedom Inc., who says that blacks don’t vote in the same proportion as whites.

Most troubling to Bryant is that the signs are hard to read. And though they urge people to register and vote, they didn’t start popping up in Kansas City until a week and a half before the election — past the registration deadline.

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