Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

Press release from NC Vote Defenders, shared Nov. 4.

BOONE and CHARLOTTE – 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 Nov. 5, sporting bright orange vests, students and voting rights advocates will stand outside polls in Watauga and Mecklenburg counties. The NC Vote Defenders is a project of Ignite NC, a youth-led organization supporting youth-led organizing efforts for justice and equality.

“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 U.S. 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.”

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,’” Lindsey said. “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.”

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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