When the Supreme Court struck down Article I of the Voting Rights Act in June, advocates for voters’ rights were understandably upset. It takes little more than recent history to justify needing federal oversight of potentially harmful voting legislation and policing which takes away the right, for many of us, to participate in this democracy. It also took very little time for states, now free from the risk of pre-approval when implementing these new policies and laws, to take action to restrict the voices of elderly, African-American and minority, and student voters.
Students on our campuses nationwide have always been a part of our larger Get Out Her Vote efforts, and in the wake of recent legislation and oversight of voting policies targeting student voters as of late our students were quick to take action and respond enthusiastically to opportunities to take back their voices.
These are their stories.
The Old Boys’ Club that comprises the North Carolina state legislature is waging a war. The target changes from week to week: after several attempts to limit access to women’s health services, a restrictive abortion bill passed earlier this month; this month those being legislated against are student voters.
The war is being waged via legislation and Board of Elections policy. North Carolina’s recently-passed HB 589 has been described as the worst voter suppression law since 1965: it will cut early voting by one week, increase the number of people who can challenge voters inside a precinct, end same-day voting registration and pre-registration for 16 and 17 year old students, and require government-issued photo IDs for voting. Student IDs issued by a public university (such as mine, Appalachian State University) are no longer considered acceptable.
In Pasquotank County, North Carolina, where Elizabeth City State University is located, the Board of Elections also disqualified ECSU student Montravias King, a four-year resident of the county, from running for public office. According to our state’s laws, residency requirements for a candidate are the same as the residency requirements for a voter – making King more than eligible for the seat. The Pasquotank County Board of Elections plans to continue challenging residency requirements of other students and has encouraged other counties to do the same.
In Watauga County, my home, right now, the Board of Elections has limited early voting polling places to only one location – and that location is not on my campus at ASU. (Previously, there were three early voting locations and one was on ASU’s campus.) On Election Day, three precincts (Boone 1, Boone 2, and Boone 3 – the same precincts surrounding the university) will be combined for the first time into one massive precinct of 9,300 people (state guidelines clearly explain that the maximum number of voters in a precinct should not exceed 1500); the new voting location for this mega-precinct will be the Watauga County Agricultural Conference Center…which has approximately 35 parking spots.
These clearly illegal changes are part of an attempt to suppress typically progressive blocs of voters – students. In the primaries last year, a map of counties that voted for and against Amendment One (making it unconstitutional for the state to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions) show that the counties with major colleges in them voted against the amendment while the rest of the state voted for the amendment. In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney won the county 13,861 votes to 13,001 votes; in the precincts in Boone surrounding ASU, President Obama won the vote with 3,211 votes to Romney’s 1,843.
The Rachel Maddow Show came to Boone recently to shed some light on what’s going on here and how difficult it is about to become for students and faculty, not to mention countless others in the Boone precincts, to vote. Mollie Clawson, the president of ASU Student Democrats, Dylan Russell, our student body president, and Renee Scherlen, one of our wonderful political science professors I’ve had the opportunity to take classes with twice, are interviewed in this video and help illuminate the new struggles of voters in Watauga County.
In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled in Symm vs. U.S. that a student has the right to vote where they go to school. This right is being taken away from us, and we are not going to tolerate these attacks on student voting without fighting back.
I was born and raised in small-town North Carolina, and I’ve always been proud to call this state my home. But recently, I have become absolutely heartbroken at the political trajectory of this once-progressive Southern state, and I am fearful that we may never again become the North Carolina that I love so much.
For the first time in almost a century and a half, conservative lawmakers have gained majority control of both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly as well as the Governor’s office; they have brought with them a slew of laws that will devastate North Carolina’s public education and public school teachers, severely limit access to abortion, and cut Medicaid and unemployment benefits.
We are angry. The current General Assembly knows we are angry and knows they will no longer hold a seat in the GA if we are given a chance to vote them out. They are afraid of us. This fear has prompted them to create some of the most severe voting restrictions in the country. These laws, veiled in the language of “voter fraud prevention” are designed specifically to make voting extraordinarily difficult for people of color, the poor, and younger voters to take part in local or national elections. The right of North Carolina college students to vote – my right to vote – is under attack.
HB 589 prohibits students from voting at their schools if their voter registration lists a home address; students will be forced to drive to their hometown to vote or change their registration, which can no longer be changed on the day you vote. This complicates voting for college students, who often change addresses and also frequently live far from their legally declared hometowns, where their parents sit waiting for them to call. The law cuts early voting days by an entire week; this means we will now have less opportunities to make it out to the polls, and it means longer lines and longer wait times when we find the chance.
College students in America have already won the legal right to vote where they attend school, and requiring citizens who do not have a valid form of ID to pay for one in order to vote is, in essence, a poll tax. Despite the fact that this law is clearly unconstitutional, the NCGA seems to be getting away with it. HB 589 does not make it impossible for students to vote; it is possible to follow all the new rules – as long as you have the time, the money, and the knowledge in advance. But it makes voting so complicated for a large percentage of students that they won’t even bother to vote, and that’s exactly what they want. They want us to give up. They want us to become apathetic. Instead, we are fighting.
Every Monday, thousands of North Carolina residents gather at the state capital to protest the recent violation of rights we’ve endured under the current General Assembly – and we have done so since April. Each week, several protesters engage in an act of civil disobedience by entering the legislature building with a message to the GA, where they are then arrested in hopes of bringing local and national attention to what is happening. These gatherings have since been termed “Moral Mondays,” and they continue weekly in Raleigh and have spread to other cities such as Asheville and (my own city) Charlotte. The Moral Monday movement is perhaps the largest political movement this state has seen since the sit-in movement of the civil rights era. Simply not taking part in immoral legislation is not enough. We must stand in direct opposition against it.
All over the state, we are seeing people coming together from various party lines and life experiences in solidarity against a government that is persistent in its attempt to disenfranchise them. Nearly 1,000 of us have been arrested, and we have been largely ignored by the GA and Governor Pat McCrory. They are hoping that if they ignore us, we will go away. But we have no intention of stopping until every last right that has been stolen is handed back to us.
I am a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I was recently compelled to lead a Get Out Her Vote campaign on my campus because although the decisions of our local government strongly impact our daily lives as students in Virginia, young voter turnout – especially among young women – has been historically low in the past for local elections.
Young women’s votes are particularly important in Virginia because there are many restrictive policies in place pertaining to women’s reproductive rights, including the recent onslaught of TRAP laws which threaten to close many of our state’s abortion and women’s health clinics. These restrictions can directly affect the course of a woman’s future, making the outcome of each election all the more critical. I am also upset with the implementation of new Voter I.D. laws in Virginia, and I feel student voters must combat these oppressive laws by refusing to give in to the political game we’ve been subjected to – by voting, in large numbers, even when lawmakers try to make it impossible for us to do so. We must empower ourselves with knowledge and a commitment to being active citizens.
With the support of the ODU Women’s Center and in conjunction with a new partnership with the League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads), I have initiated a Get Out Her Vote campaign to raise awareness for the upcoming November general election. The goal is to encourage student voter participation, with an emphasis on women voters. Our GOHV campaign consists of voter registration drives on campus as well as weekly voter information tabling at our campus community center led by Women Center student volunteers. We’re offering students information on how voter registration works in the state, how they can ensure their voice is heard, and why it’s imperative that they participate. (We also have a Voter Information Corner in the Women’s Center where these materials are available to the students at all times.) I want to make my fellow students aware of the upcoming election and establish within them how important and worthwhile it will be to participate in this state’s democracy.
This generation must take responsibility in shaping the world we are entering into by demanding the change we wish to see in our government; to me, it all starts with awareness and an informed voice at the polls.