Voters wanted: Apply here
The Battle for America: Part two of a four-part series
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 14:10
On the second floor of Eagle Landing, an N.C. Central University dormitory, there is a corner study room with seven floor-to-ceiling windows. The windows look out on Brant Street Plaza, a red-brick walkway popular with students and lined with benches and tables.
The heavy summer heat hangs over the plaza in the last week of August, trying to seep its way into the room, where seven NAACP voter registration organizers hunch over two laptop computers.
Joshua Vincent, the organization’s get-out-the-vote state coordinator, is teaching the organizers — all NCCU students in their late teens or early 20s — how to use the Voter Activation Network.
The network is a national voter information database that generates regional voter registration walking lists, makes robotic calls and performs a variety of other tasks related to voter mobilization.
The importance of the network is simple: The more people organizers touch, whether in person, through email or by phone, the more the North Carolina electorate expands.
“Our job at the NAACP is, no matter who they vote for, to encourage people to vote. We want to expand our electorate,” said Vincent.
William Barber III, president of the NCCU chapter of the NAACP, said registration efforts using the network are part of the battle in North Carolina.
Still, Barber worries that registration does not automatically lead to participation.
“Registration is just half the battle. We want to have educated voters who participate in the election,” said Barber.
American representative democracy is in peril, say civil rights advocates.
According to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, recent legislation — nearly all of it passed in 2012 — threatens to shrink the electorate by more than five million voters, a number greater than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
The state-level and Republican driven legislation is a combination of voter ID laws, stricter voter registration standards and elimination of early and same-day registration voting.
The legislation limits voter participation amongst minorities, low-income voters, students and the elderly. In Florida, a key swing state, new restrictions on voter registration have severely limited — and in some cases outright prevented –— registration of new voters.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, two more swing states, controversial voting restrictions are being challenged in court.
In Pennsylvania, a new voter ID law is being challenged. According to the Brennan Center report, 11 percent of Americans do not possess a government-issued ID — around 21 million citizens in all.
Similar tactics were used after the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870 and after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
Civil rights activists say it’s no surprise that similar tactics have followed the election of the first black president in 2008.
Barber said representative democracy works best when everybody participates. He said the massive voter turnout in 2008 was accomplished through fusion politics and organizing. It was a movement that included minorities, the young and the elderly.
According to Barber the electorate-shrinking tactics of the past should remain in the past. Civil rights activists have already fought those battles.
“It’s not to prevent voter fraud. It’s not to protect democracy. It’s a political tool being used to limit who’s participating,” said Barber, referring to vote suppression measures.
The NCCU chapter of the NAACP is pushing for voter registration at NCCU and the surrounding community. Vincent said the NAACP encourages students to vote on campus. Students registered to vote in their hometowns may find it difficult to cast a ballot because of travel and time constraints.
Political science junior Kiara Alexander, political action chair for the NCCU chapter of the NAACP, said registering voters means battling a tide of misinformation.
“Some people wish they could [vote], but said they couldn’t,” said Alexander. “It has a big impact in people’s lives to vote for who you think is the best candidate.”
Both Alexander and Barber said some people are unsure if they can vote because they have criminal records. In North Carolina, felony offenders can vote after completing their required sentences, parole and probation.
“As you move into the community, that’s when we saw more people that were not registered,” said Barber.
Barber said the right to vote is the most important right American citizens exercise. He said people have given their lives for the right to vote.
“They realized what the ballot represented. The importance, the power and responsibility,” said Barber. “A lot of people want to see the younger generation become apathetic. If we do that we’re playing right into their hands.”
But the student organizers working in the second floor study room refuse to slip into that apathy. They know that less than 50 percent of young Americans will vote if organizers do not encourage, educate and register the disenfranchised.