By: Jordan King
Voting has always been the best way for constituents to get their voices heard in local, state, and national governments. As a democracy, we reserve the right to choose who we want to represent our needs, and voting directly impacts this process. While the youth voter turnout has always been important in elections, politically-involved youth tend to lean Democratic, which of course would mean more problems for Republican-controlled locations. The youth vote, and more importantly the minority vote, is what helped the nation’s first-elected African American President win two terms in office; this definitely has not gone unnoticed in Republican states.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) helped to eradicate several instances of voter discrimination aimed toward minorities. These practices would range from poll taxes, unfairly administered literacy tests, and a number of absurd methods aimed to dissuade and prevent the minority vote from making an impact. VRA, which helped to break down barriers minorities faced as well as a measure in the 1970’s that lowers the voting age to 18, further allowed both college aged youth and young minorities to become involved in the political process as well make serious differences in election results.
Due to the noted effect of both the youth and minority vote in the last two elections, states with Republican control have taken extreme measures to once again stifle their voice. In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed several measures and initiatives to either take voting precincts off of, or move them further away from, college campuses that tend to lean Democratic.
Several examples of voter suppression include: gerrymandering (the practice of redrawing precinct lines to favor a particular party), voter ID laws which may bar the use of a college ID as proper qualifications, requiring that out-of-state students use a mail-in ballot due to “not actually being a resident of their college state”, and a slew of other tactics up for consideration. This past year, North Carolina A&T’s Rock the Vote campaign focused on voter registration, awareness about the importance of voting, student turnout, and lackluster enthusiasm toward voting — all of which are major concerns to the university.
This reflects the trend of some HBCU’s in the south to experience lack of excitement on the issue due to the various efforts on behalf of their state to protect Republican interests. Even in Florida, voter disenfranchisement issues have affected their college campuses including their four HBCU’s (Florida A&M, Florida Memorial, Edward Waters, and Bethune-Cookman). Sketchy political processes, purging registered voters, and missing ballots have surfaced in the state’s news headlines and are being targeted as further tactics from Republicans to stifle the voice of many college and minorities.
Despite best efforts to undermine the minority and youth vote, several campaigns and organizations have organized to combat and raise awareness to these issues. North Carolina’s Student Engagement and Empowerment Network (SEEN) has been created by 10 HBCU’s in the state to develop ideas and strategies to empower and mobilize minority and young voters. Also, the American Civil Liberties Union has been effective in calling out these malice practices and posting information on current news relating to developments with voter suppression. Even the Washington, DC-based nonprofit IMPACT’s “#VoteReady” campaign was established to both raise awareness, as well as actively help to register and re-register voters under age 40. Another important aspect of the campaign has been its use of the growing platform of social media to reach the masses and mobilize youth on college campuses as well across the country.
As both minorities and youth, our voice is especially important. As seen before, we have more power and influence than ever before in elections, and it’s imperative that we continue to showcase our presence. We must stay alert and aware to legislation passed to silence our voices and continuously fighting for the preservation of our right to vote. While these practices as well as believing that our voice isn’t actually heard may discourage some, we must never give up in the grand scheme of things. Voting has been and will always be the best way for one to exercise power and influence in the political process.