Blocking the youth vote in the South

This article was published on Facing South.

Charlotte Canvass
Inter-generational neighborhood canvass in Charlotte

First they were supposed to vote early — in a nightclub. Then students, employees, and faculty at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University were supposed to vote early a mile from the farthest edge of campus, in a county building that had little parking. Then, after students filed a lawsuit, a state judge intervened, saying that the county board of election’s decision to end early voting in the on-campus student union — after eight years of allowing it — could have no purpose but to disenfranchise students and was unconstitutional. That decision, however, was not the final word. It was put on hold by an appeals court, and then the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

By that time, the Watauga County Board of Elections haddecided to restore on-campus early voting — a practice it had eliminated by a partisan vote pushed by the board’s Republican majority. Appalachian State is the largest employer in Watauga County, and its students make up roughly 40 percent of the county’s population, but their preference for Democratic candidates does not jibe with the rest of the county’s Republican tilt. In 2012, about 35 percent of the county’s early votes were cast at the Appalachian State student union.

But after all the chaos, it turns out that Appalachian State students are the lucky ones: They are some of the only students in North Carolina who will be able to vote early on campus this year. Early voting sites have been eliminated on college campuses across North Carolina and the South, part of a broader effort by local elections officials and state lawmakers to erect new barriers to voting. The new policies, which run the gamut from shortened early voting periods to strict voter ID requirements, disproportionately affect young voters — and especially youth of color.

“If you look at what young voters did in this state [North Carolina] in 2008 and 2012, it’s impossible to not conclude they mattered a lot,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the law groups representing plaintiffs in a challenge to a restrictive election law the North Carolina legislature passed last year. “When young voters turn out a lot it can be dangerous to entrenched power, so they’re seen as threatening.”

After Republican takeovers in statehouses across the country and the South in 2010, many states enacted new restrictions on voters. And the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder last year striking a key provision of the Voting Rights Act freed many states with histories of discriminatory voting practices to pass and enforce new laws without approval by the federal government. Four Southern states — Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama — used the new lack of federal oversight to enact restrictive voting laws that disproportionately affect young and minority voters. A group of young voters are challenging North Carolina’s law on the basis that it abridges their right to vote in violation of the Constitutional guarantee that all 18 year-olds can vote — the first time voters have challenged a voting law on age discrimination grounds.

Virginia is implementing its voter ID law for the first time this fall — as are Alabama,Mississippi, and Texas. Voter ID requirements can also disproportionately affect young voters since the laws in some states like Texas do not allow the use of student IDs, even if issued by public universities. (North Carolina will begin enforcing a voter ID requirement that excludes student IDs in 2016.) As a consequence of such laws, and due to a higher likelihood of not having other eligible ID, young voters are more likely than the general population to report not showing up to vote.

And in Florida, notorious for long lines and other problems in past elections, voting rights advocates say state law may hurt young voters this year as well. In 2011, the state government cut early voting by six days, contributing to very long lines in the 2012 election. Astudy by the Advancement Project found that long lines affected young voters and voters of color more than older and white voters across Florida.

Ciara Taylor, political director at the Dream Defenders, a group advocating for voter activism against police brutality and racism, reports that polling places have been moved off college campuses across Florida. In Tallahassee, for example, there are no early voting places on either Florida State’s or Florida A&M’s campuses, which have a combined enrollment of over 50,000 students. And while Florida allows voters to use student IDs to vote, they must also present an ID that has their signature, such as a credit card.

“The voter ID law goes hand in hand with the cut back of polling locations at college campuses and shorter hours at polling places,” Taylor said.

Targeting young voters in North Carolina

In North Carolina, county boards of elections have closed on-campus early voting sites across the state, making it harder for students to vote. Students at historically black Elizabeth City State University and Winston-Salem State University will not have on-campus early voting polling locations. North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have lost their on-campus sites for early voting and the general election as well.

Local elections officials have said some on-campus voting locations have been axed because they cannot provide curbside voting for disabled voters — even though that has never stopped them from being used in the past. Other election boards — including those in the counties where Appalachian State, Elizabeth City State, and Winston-Salem State are located — provided no reasons for shuttering voting sites. Because of the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2012, county boards of elections in the state now have GOP majorities for the first time in decades.

Barriers to youth voting have also taken other forms in North Carolina. For example, the Guilford County Board of Elections rejected over 1,400 voter registration forms for students at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, another historically black school, reports Irving Allen, the fellowship director for Ignite NC, a non-partisan group that trains poll monitors and registers young voters. The students used the university’s address rather than their dorm address and room numbers and consequently had their forms rejected — the first time this has happened, he said.

“I understand the logic behind it, but before students were able to register by just putting the address of the school,” Allen said. “It creates this disarray and confusion.” Because the board of election did not follow up with the new registrants directly due to lack of funding, Allen said, that job fell to student activists.

Last year the Pasquotank County Board of Elections blocked an Elizabeth City State senior, Montravias King, from running for the local city council because he was registered to vote at his campus address. Pasquotank County’s elections board has repeatedly challenged students’ voting rights at the historically black school even though college students’ right to register to vote was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1979 case. King, who is black, was eventually elected to the local city council after taking his case to the State Board of Elections with the help of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed one of the nation’s most restrictive election laws last year, shortening early voting and ending same-day registration, out of precinct voting, and pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-old students. In 2016, the law’s voter ID provision will come into effect. Student IDs, even if issued by a public school, will not be accepted as voter IDs. While supporters of the law claim that it will prevent election fraud, opponents see an attempt to disenfranchise people of color and young voters.

“It seems like a unified push to make it more difficult for students to vote,” said Claudia Shoemaker, president of the Appalachian State College Democrats.

Young voters of color especially affected

Studies have found that voter ID laws disproportionately affect youth and people of color — college students or not. For example, a review by the federal Government Accountability Office found that strict voter ID laws like North Carolina’s reduced youth voting in Kansas and Tennessee in the 2012 election. In Kansas that year, 18 year-olds were seven percentage points less likely than 44 to 53 year olds to turn out to vote.

Voter ID laws are also enforced in ways that disproportionately target young voters, and especially voters of color. Young voters of color are asked for photo ID as much as 50 percent more often than young white voters — even when an ID is not required to vote. The same study found that when voter ID is required, young African-American and Hispanic voters were asked for ID more often than young white voters.

“Young people of color tend to be profiled more and asked for ID more than their white counterparts,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of voter protection for the national civil rights group the Advancement Project.

These efforts to curb young and minority voters come as youth — and especially minority youth — are becoming increasingly larger parts of the American electorate. Voters between 18 and 29 years old were critical to President Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. In North Carolina in 2008, the only age group of which a majority voted for Obama was voters aged 18 to 29, according to CNN. Obama won the state by just 14,177 votes.

Six years later, many of these young voters will now have to surmount new barriers just to be able to cast their ballots.

“For a country that advocates the importance of civic engagement, to be taking away the rights of these citizens is just un-American,” said Taylor of the Dream Defenders. “I think that people are realizing that voting is a lot more important than they realized before.”

Evan Walker-Wells

Youth on the move

Fellows with Ignite NC have been on the ground organizing in their local campus and community. By October 25 we will have hosted 15 election protection trainings, participated in 6 walkouts or marches to the polls, and passed out thousands of voter education materials. Youth and students are building a movement for justice. This election is more than just another moment in the political system but rather a statement that young people will have their voice be heard.

Check out some of the pictures from the Ignite NC work so far.

Greensboro NC - passing out voter guides before homecoming
Greensboro NC – passing out voter guides before homecoming
Students at ECSU host a voting rally on campus
Students at ECSU host a voting rally on campus
Raleigh - As Voter Registration deadline approaches youth register hundreds of students.
Raleigh – As Voter Registration deadline approaches youth register hundreds of students.
Charlotte - Youth prepare for the Vote Defender Training
Charlotte – Youth prepare for the Vote Defender Training

More than just a case: Why NC youth are traveling to Ohio to walk 11 miles #BlackLivesMatter

“I saw my son get murdered by the police. It was worse than Ferguson.”

That is what John Crawford’s father said after he was allowed to see six minutes of footage from the Beavercreek Walmart in Ohio where police gunned down his son on August 5. John Crawford was shopping in the Walmart and was holding a toy airsoft rifle when another shopper called the police and described a “Black male about 6 feet tall” waving a gun. The tape has not been released to the public, and a grand jury is meeting September 22-24 to decide whether the officer will be arrested.

In the past month the murders of Mike Brown and John Crawford have received national attention. Not only did unarmed black men get shot dead in public places by state funded officials, but the institutions responsible have colluded to cover up, launching media campaigns to shift public perception by demonizing the victims.  These cases are not simply murders by individual officers but symptomatic of structural racism and the funding of state sponsored violence against black and brown youth.

The criminalization of black and brown people is not isolated to Ohio or Ferguson. In North Carolina high school student, Jesus Huerta, was handcuffed in the backseat of a police car in Durham, NC when he was fatally shot in the head. Jonathan Ferrell was murdered by the police, shot 10 times by an officer after seeking help when his car crashed in Charlotte. In NC, a black driver is 223% more likely to be searched than a white driver during a stop for a seat belt violation, and a Latino driver is 106% more likely to be searched. The results of these racist stops are that people are pushed out of their jobs and schools and into the criminal justice system.

The case of John Crawford is more than just a case in Ohio, it is an example of the state sponsored violence being carried out against communities in the United States. When law enforcement and institutions like Walmart refuse to make information public, thwarting the pursuit of justice by a community, it sets a precedent across the country. We have seen these cover-ups and abuse of power in NC and that is why we are mobilizing to join the Ohio Student Association for Freedom City September 22-24.

We will participate in an 11 mile “Freedom Walk” from the Beavercreek Walmart where John Crawford was killed to the courthouse in Xenia where the grand jury will be meeting. The walk will end in a rally and occupation of the courthouse grounds.

We are walking 11 miles not only for justice for John Crawford, but for all lives ended by police and for the dismantling of a system that allows it to continue. We will not accept a future where black and brown people are criminalized for their existence. We are marching in Ohio for justice for John Crawford and our own liberation. This is more than just one case, these are the lives of people and our communities. #BlackLivesMatter #OurLivesMatter

This statement was written by Irving Allen, D’atra Jackson, Bree Newsome and Bryan Perlmutter

Irving Allen is a community organizer at the Beloved Community Center and the fellowship coordinator at Ignite NC. He has worked to build community and youth coalitions both in Greensboro and throughout the state of NC. Irving has played an intricate role in organizing initiatives such as the civilian review board addressing police accountability in Greensboro.

D’atra Jackson is the Organizing Director at NC Student Power Union. Getting her master’s degree from FIU she established a Dream Defender chapter at her school. D’atra has been one of the organizers of fighting back against police brutality in Durham. She recently organized a conference of youth from across NC to take action on issues that affect their lives.

Bree Newsome is an organizer and leader in the Charlotte community. Bree continues to organize around police brutality in Charlotte. She is a co-founder of Stay Up NC, a singer/songwriter and filmmaker.

Bryan Perlmutter is the Director of Ignite NC and staff at the Youth Organizing Institute. He was among the first 17 people arrested at the first Moral Monday in NC. Bryan has helped fight back against the School-To-Prison-Pipeline in Wake County changing school discipline policy and police power in schools.

Youth and Student Conference

conference picOn September 12-14 Ignite NC partnered with the NC Student Power Union to host a Stand Up Fight Back Conference at NC State University. The conference brought together youth from 17 different NC institutions to talk about issues facing youth in their local communities and schools. Youth bonded over food and dancing while they learned each others stories, developed new skills, and planned campaigns for the fall.

Spring Election Protection

Check out our great volunteers that have been defending your right to vote all across North Carolina!

Combating Sex Trafficking in NC by Nina Rhoades

Sex Trafficking In the United States: a brief overview

As an introduction to this blog and my work against sex trafficking, Id like to start off with some statistics on trafficking in the U.S. and a basic overview of the issue. Later I’ll go more in depth about the intersectionality of this issue and what can be done to stop it.

According to a literature review by Edward J. Schauer and Elizabeth M. Wheaton, “The United States of America ranks as the world’s second largest destination/market country (after Germany) for women and children trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation in the sex industry (Mizus, Moody, Privado, & Douglas, 2003).”

An estimated 50,000 people are victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. each year, a staggering 96% of them are female and half are children.

The common systems of sex trafficking include truck stops, false massage parlors, false hotel services, and anywhere prostitution is present.

The problem is growing even more serious than drug trafficking and is estimated to surpass it in prevalence in the next 10 years.

During my time in Boone I have worked  to organize events and campaigns to raise awareness and build a broad base of college activist to help bring an end to the practices of sex trafficking in my community.

My work with Ignite NC covers various methods used to combat this issue and their different levels of effectiveness. If you or anyone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, please call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). Visit for more information on tips or how to get involved.


The Final CountDown: 3 by Mary-Wren Ritchie

If I were to write a book based on the past couple of weeks it would be called “Life Via Technology: A Memoir.” I received more emails last week than I did my entire freshman year accumulated. Phone calls made me stupidly nervous freshman year; if I couldn’t order food online, it wasn’t getting ordered. Now I’m calling professional organizations and asking them to participate in SlutWalk UNCC. It’s amazing how much can change in three years.

Speaking of change, Feb. 8 I participated in Moral March. Being part of the estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people protesting the extreme regression North Carolina lawmakers have enacted over the last couple of years was empowering. People are angry with how women, teachers, voters, the environment, students, etc are being treated. Protesters marched, chanted, held signs and sang together to send the message that North Carolinians do not support the actions taken by the state.

I served as bus captain on the Planned Parenthood bus that took people from Charlotte to Raleigh to participate in the protest. I was in charge of 32 passengers on the bus, many old enough to be my parents. Some of these passengers had fought for many of the same social causes in the ‘60s and won. Now they’re angry that the state is trying to pave over their victories. These people are veterans and role models, and here I was 5 feet 0 inches tall, a little girl giving directions to people who should be directing me. I was terrified. Our trip was stressful, and it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I went as a passionate and frustrated girl; I returned a hopeful and respected woman. I have never been more proud of my fellow citizens and myself. Participating in the Moral March instilled in me a sense of determination in my fight for justice, love for the people, and hope for the future.

I mentioned that standing 5-foot makes me feel like a little girl. My height is something that makes me feel less authoritative. However, this weekend showed me that the amount of physical space I take up is in no way indicative of the amount of power I have. With the help of people like those who marched Saturday, I can change the world. This is where my life is heading. It’s going to take a lot work, but it’s going to be worth it.

What’s going on for HKonJ:


This Friday, several youth organizations are co-convening the Pre-Moral March Youth and Student Power Party from 6:30 to 9:30 at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (1801 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh).

If you know a youth or student organization that can co-sponsor the march please email
Here’s a link to the Facebook event.

We hope that mobilizing your campus and/or community for HKonJ is going well. Here’s some info on march logistics.

After HKonJ, the North Carolina Student Power Union is hosting a post-march convening, walking distance from the march, in the Raleigh Times (14 E Hargett Street) from 1 to 3.

After that, you and all your friends can come to the Just(ice) Dance! at the Pinhook (117 W Main Street, Durham)
Here’s the link to the Facebook event.

This is going to be a very exciting week for Ignite NC and North Carolina!

Why Attend HKonJ?


These are clear attempts by those in power to disenfranchise and suppress the vote of students, working families, and people of color, the very people who are becoming the new majority in the South. Ignite NC is committed to making sure that every person in North Carolina has the right to the ballot box. From the NC Vote Defenders Project, to the new Ignite NC fellows we will not rest until all voices are heard.

In a land that still holds the dark history of poll taxes and Jim Crow laws, we cannot accept this new attempt to legally marginalize and disenfranchise various populations of North Carolinians. That is why Ignite NC is mobilizing for HKonJ and calling on all young people to come march on February 8.

How the NCGA suppresses the student vote

Mary-Kyle, an Ignite NC Fellow, responds to threats of moving precincts off of campus:

 Mary-Kylie Cranford, Guest Columnist

How the NCGA suppresses the student vote

Let’s talk.

The members of the 2013 North Carolina General Assembly pushed through a nearly 60-page bill that attacked student enfranchisement. Why would they do this? They are scared, and they should be.

During the 2008 presidential election, there was a huge surge in young adults voting. Passed off as a fad brought on by a youthful, exciting presidential candidate, Republican and Tea Party leadership believed that once the election was over, things would return to normal. But in the 2012 election, the demographic of 18 to 24-year-olds increased in turnout again, this time by 39.7 percent, according to the Daily Kos.

An increase in voter turnout of any demographic is a win for any true supporter of democracy, but for the current leaders in North Carolina, it is a threat to their job security. Faced with the fact that the increased youth participation was not a fad, but rather a fundamental change in how younger voters view themselves as part of the political process, the NCGA went into attack mode.

It passed a bill, which becomes effective in stages, adding various barriers to students voting.

The General Assembly cut the first week of early voting and enacted the following bans: same-day registration, straight-party voting, teenage pre-registration and out-of-precinct voting.

Organizations are fighting to change these bans, and you should help. The Historic Thousands on Jones Street march, led by the NAACP, is Feb. 8. N.C. State’s Student Power Union and others around the UNC-System will be joining. HKonJ will be the largest movement in decades. More than 40,000 people across North Carolina are expected to attend, fighting against voter suppression and showing solidarity for others whose rights are being stripped away, from the minimum wage increase to reproductive rights.

I grew up in Mebane, N.C., a small town where the voting age population is about 8,000. Mebane has three voting locations. That’s fair, but I would like to juxtapose that with students living on or near N.C. State’s campus.

According to University Housing, about 7,000 students live on campus, and with more than 34,000 students, I feel we can safely assume that the number of eligible voters living near N.C. State is certainly double or triple the amount of eligible voters in Mebane.

Why isn’t there a voting place on N.C. State’s campus? We have the room and volunteers necessary for it. In 2012 we proved this by having a voting location in Talley. The reason students don’t have a convenient place to vote is because the vast majority of the members of the General Assembly don’t want our voices to be heard.

Regulations set in place by the General Assembly are not meant to keep away fraudulent voters, but rather people who have never voted before, jumping in without what is considered appropriate knowledge of the candidates. No longer allowing straight-party voting also adds to the idea that one must research every single candidate and can’t rely on party identification. Not every voter has the time, will or energy to do that type of research, and it shouldn’t be required. The fact is these are classist and racist tactics used to take away enfranchisement of oppressed groups. The idea that there’s a certain amount of knowledge one should have about the topics is used to make those who need their voices heard the most feel inadequate; these laws systematically confirm that mentality.

Ending early registration of high school students can’t be seen in any light other than the General Assembly not wanting to be held accountable to the up-and-coming voters and constituents. It’s disgusting the attacks the General Assembly feels comfortable making in the view of the public.

The photo ID requirement, effective January 2016, is another classist and racist attack on voter enfranchisement. The General Assembly didn’t stop there, though. It specifically banned student IDs as acceptable identification. I would love to meet the criminal mastermind smart enough and bored enough to fraudulently fill out the voter registration form, a college application, FASFA (assuming this criminal mastermind isn’t extremely loaded), and attend a college’s orientation to get his or her picture taken, for one vote. The separate voter ID requirement is a tactic clearly used to deter students from voting.

The worst part is the General Assembly isn’t going to stop. Why would it? Its members successfully passed a law in which minority groups have a harder time voting them out of office. McCrory needs to know students aren’t going to put up with his perverted view of democracy. Government is made to protect our rights, not to pass ridiculous laws that try to strip them from us. How can you tell him? March at HKonJ!

Only at HKonJ will your voice truly be heard. March with the Student Power Union to show that students will always have a voice in their government. United they can’t ignore us, and united we will be heard.