Misinformation, Confusion, and Physical Barriers Plague NC Municipal Elections

This past Tuesday on November 5, Election Day, The NC Vote Defenders partnered with Democracy NC and student organizations and took to precincts across Boone and Charlotte.

The NC Vote Defender rally on the campus of Appalachian State
The NC Vote Defender rally on the campus of Appalachian State
Students rally to support voting rights and encourage their peers to head to the polls.
Students rally to support voting rights and encourage their peers to head to the polls.

Prior to Election Day, UNC-Charlotte students encouraged peers to vote using social media, as well as spreading the message around campus on the ground and in the classrooms. At Appalachian State, students made banners, raised signs, and held a rally to encourage people to head to the polls.

However, when youth and students went to the polls, many problems made voting harder than it should be. NC Vote Defenders went to problem precincts, helping voters find their polling locations, directing traffic, and providing information on the new voting laws.

 

 

LACK OF ACCESSIBILITY, POOR SIGNAGE, AND POLLING SITES MOVED WITHOUT NOTICE CONFUSE VOTERS IN PRECINCTS MADE UP MAINLY OF PEOPLE OF COLOR AND LOW-INCOME VOTERS 

In Charlotte, many issues plagued voters as they sought to participate in the political process.  Accessibility problems, poor labeling of polling sites, and blocked roads frustrated and confused voters and made voting much more difficult than it should be.  Even worse, polling locations were moved, further confusing voters who had been voting there for years.  The NC Vote Defenders found that these problems occurred mainly in precincts who served large populations of low-income voters and people of color.

 

Charlotte issues included:

  • Construction blocking Freedom Drive, the main road in front of Charlotte’s precinct 81, backing up traffic for many miles. Cones set up made the side road, which was supposed to be open to allow cars access to the precint, appear blocked off, as only a small sign directed people to the detour. The precinct had extremely low turnout, with voters complaining that it took over 90 minutes to find the location.
  • Filled parking lots at precincts, which required voters to circle the lot multiple times before being able to find a spot.
  • Polling locations that were moved to the back of buildings (and, therefore, no longer being in their usual location).  These problems were exacerbated by poor signs directing voters to the new locations, and a lack of curbside voting that led to folks driving away in the morning without voting.
NC Vote Defenders monitor the polls for voter suppression at Precinct 212
NC Vote Defenders monitor the polls for voter suppression at Precinct 212

EXTREMELY HIGH NUMBER OF PROVISIONAL BALLOTS CAST IN WATAUGA COUNTY STUDENT PRECINCTS 

In Boone, after the Watuaga County Board of Elections removed the campus precinct earlier in the year, students organized to move a location closer to campus.  They succeeded, and after the new locations were set up, the campus was split into two separate polling locations. This created mass confusion among students trying to vote.

As of 3pm on Tuesday at the student precinct – which was relocated to a night club – 62 regular ballots and 59 provisional ballots had been cast. Poll workers originally told student their provisional ballots would not count and discouraged them from voting. With intense advocacy from NC Vote Defenders, the poll workers’ resistance subsided, and students were given information and directed to their proper voting location.

NC Vote Defenders out in Boone
NC Vote Defenders out in Boone

As the new voting law is implemented in 2014, we know the suppression efforts and problems at the polls will become an even greater challenge.  To fight for the right of all North Carolinians to vote, we will need to ramp up our efforts of education and poll monitoring.  We cannot let those in power silence the voices of students, of people of color, and of low-income voters, who are all going to be hit hardest by these new laws.

We got a lot of coverage on Election Day!

Boone Vote Defenders Ready for Election Day.
Boone Vote Defenders Ready for Election Day.

Our work in Charlotte and Boone got a lot of attention yesterday, and we were featured in many different publications across the south. Lengthy pieces featuring the Vote Defenders were published in, Charlotte Creative Loafing, Carolina Public Press, and the Watauga Democrat.

On their, websites, you can find great interviews with the Vote Defenders and see them in action at the polls.

Additionally, the Associated Press wrote about the Vote Defenders in its piece on North Carolina’s 2013 election, and it was reprinted in the Greensboro News & Record, the Raleigh News & Observer, the Salisbury Post, the Hampton Roads Pilot, and in Univision Noticias.

NC Vote Defenders to Monitor Polls in Watauga and Mecklenburg Counties

Boone and Charlotte, N.C. – Beginning early Tuesday morning the NC Vote Defenders will make their second appearance at North Carolina precincts.  The NC Vote Defenders is a non-partisan project started by young people in the fall of 2013 to raise awareness of changing voting laws and advocate for all North Carolinians’ right to the ballot box – particularly in light of the new legislative changes.
In response to the new “Monster Voting Law,” which has been described as the worst set of voter suppression laws in the country, these young “Vote Defenders” will distribute accurate, non-partisan information about election laws and upcoming changes.  They will also document any incidents where prospective voters have issues casting their ballot.  In October, the NC Vote Defenders monitored precincts in Wake and Pasquotank counties, distributing voter education materials to hundreds of voters.

On November 5, sporting bright orange vests, students and voting rights advocates will stand outside polls in Watauga and Mecklenburg counties.

“We want to make sure that anyone who wants to vote, can,” said Jessica Injejikian, a student organizer with the Vote Defender Project who will be monitoring precincts in her home of Mecklenburg County with students from UNC-Charlotte and Johnson C Smith.  “There’s a lot of confusion out there, particularly around the Voter ID changes – which don’t actually take effect until 2016.  By handing out information and having a dialog with people, we will work to build a movement of engaged voters who refuse to let their voices be silenced and will protect and defend their right to the ballot box – despite the slew of new laws making it more difficult for people to vote.”

“The changes to the laws were designed and being enforced in a way that makes it harder for students and people of color to vote, that’s why US Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a hard look at them,” said NC Vote Defender and Appalachian State University student Albert Lindsey.  “Earlier this year, our county Board of Elections tried to change the location of the precinct where most students are registered to a location that was really inaccessible.  We came together as students and organized and won a compromise location, but unfortunately it shows that the current officials aren’t going to just do what is right.  It’s up to us to watchdog what they do – from poll workers to precinct judges to the members of the Board of Elections, to ensure our voice and vote count.  We’ll be at the polls to be allies to anyone who believes they’ve been unjustly denied their right to vote or who did not have a positive experience when casting a ballot,” said Lindsey.

Many parts of the new law are not yet in effect and the Department of Justice has filed suit challenging the new voting laws.

Recently, North Carolina’s new voting laws were featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This segment included an interview with a Buncombe County GOP precinct chair who said the laws would hurt “lazy blacks” and “lazy college kids.”

“I was shocked when I heard him say blatantly, on national television, that he thinks college students are lazy people who don’t care, and it’s offensive that he said black voters in our state ‘want the government to give them everything,'” said Albert Lindsay.  “It was appalling and an embarrassment to our state. Other people were outraged as well – and so they signed up to become Vote Defenders.  Now they’re working for student voting rights to make sure Mr. Yelton and the General Assembly cannot silence us the way they intend to.”

The NC Vote Defenders recently held a rally for student voting rights in Boone on the campus of Appalachian State University.  “Students at the Vote Defender rally at ASU wore sunglasses before symbolically removing them to show that we will not remain in the dark,” said Bryan Perlmutter, Director of the NC Vote Defenders Project.  “Courageous young people fought and died for voting rights in North Carolina, the birthplace of SNCC and the Sit-in Movement,” said Perlmutter. “It’s our job to defend these gains and others made by those who came before us.”

www.NCVoteDefenders.org

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The NC Vote Defenders is a project of Ignite NC, a youth-led organization supporting youth-led organizing efforts for justice and equality.

Solutions to the problems facing North Carolina and our global community lie in our ability to work together for the common good and to build the leadership and power of young people to create lasting change.  In order to create the kind of future we all deserve, we must understand our past, defend the gains made by those who came before us, and ignite and empower every day people to lead efforts to build a fair and just future. When those most affected by injustice and inequality are the leaders who find and implement solutions, we will create a better world.

~Ignite NC Vision Statement