In Gravois Park, David King Is the Man Who Gets Out the Vote 

King urges, nags and drives his neighbors to the polls. This year, he also went to court

David King, right, with Shalessa Kemp at their Froebel Elementary polling place. November 6 was Kemp’s first time casting a ballot.

NICHOLAS COULTER

David King, right, with Shalessa Kemp at their Froebel Elementary polling place. November 6 was Kemp’s first time casting a ballot.

A few days before Election Day, David King's plan is set: He's going to start knocking on his neighbors' doors around 9:30 a.m., reminding them to vote and seeing who needs a ride to the polls. But as this reporter pulls up to King's house in Gravois Park in south St. Louis a little after 9 a.m. on November 6, King calls to say he's already left to give an elderly woman who lives on Itaska a ride to her polling place.

"Don't worry," he says over the phone. "I'm running some neighbors to the polls at 10. I'll meet you then."

To say that King, 50, is involved in his community would be a colossal understatement. The St. Louis native referees basketball games at the Carondelet YMCA. He's involved in a Beat the Streets basketball program at the Cherokee Center off Jefferson. Every October he and his wife invite the neighborhood kids over to watch Halloween movies he shows on a projector in his backyard.

Instead of working a traditional nine to five, King buys houses, fixes them up and rents them out. A few doors down from where he lives sits a vacant house that he owns, which for the past several Octobers he's transformed into a DIY haunted house. Admission costs $2 and comes with all the candy you can eat.

Voting may be what King cares most about. It doesn't take much to get him to opine at length on the issues of the day: city schools, trash collection, the media, minimum wage, the police. But he holds a special passion for voting. The right isn't to be taken for granted, he says. A lot of people died for it — a lot of people in particular died so people like him could have it.

"It doesn't matter if it's an election for president or if the only thing on the ballot is how to trim the trees in the neighborhood — I'm voting," he says. "I take that seriously."

The 2008 presidential election was the first time he brought people to the polling station with him. In the decade since, he's developed a reputation as a guy who will bust his ass to get voters to the polls and who will bust the chops of anyone who stays on the couch on Election Day.

"He brings a lot of people out," says Alderwoman Cara Spencer, whose Ward 20 includes Gravois Park. "He motivates neighbors. I've seen him at every election doing that. Women show up in their nighties and their jammies saying that 'Mr. King dragged my ass out of bed to go exercise my right to vote.'"

On August 7, 2018, King went to vote in the primary at his usual polling place, Froebel Elementary School on Nebraska. Everyone there greeted him with "hello" and "how ya doing." He showed his voter registration card to the poll worker, who then asked for a photo ID.

King reached for his wallet and realized he'd left it at the house where he'd been working earlier in the day.

Well, you can't vote, the poll worker said. How do we know you're you?

"Everyone in here just said 'Hi, David,'" King replied, incredulous.

King lost the argument, didn't vote and went out into the parking lot upset. He bumped into some people he knew and told them about what had happened.

It was then that insult was added to injury. A poll worker from inside handed King a tape measure and told him that if he wanted to talk about what had happened he needed to be a full 25 feet from the building. Otherwise, it might be considered illegal canvassing.

"I saw him right after it happened," Spencer recalls. "He was very pissed off, obviously."

Later that day, King did cast a ballot. About 45 minutes after he went back to work, his brother, who had heard what had happened, came to see him. King got his wallet and went back to Froebel.

"But you see the thing is, for that 45 minutes they'd beat me," King says. "They'd convinced me not to vote. Now imagine if I was someone who didn't have a flexible schedule, someone who has got kids to pick up. Do you think then I'm going to go back and try again?"

Two months later, King is still smarting from what happened in August. He's the kind of guy who, when he perceives an injustice, whether against him or someone else, can't let it just roll off. He's got to do something about it.

In the months after the August primary, King would do something about it. By the time he returned to Froebel to vote in the November midterms, the state's voter ID law had been amended — a change in which King played a part.

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