On the first day of early voting for the 2016 presidential election, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, N.C. NAACP president, held a press conference at N.C. Central University’s Hoey Circle.
NCCU students and bystanders circled Barber as he talked about the challenges North Carolina citizens still face, even after the 4th Circuit Federal Court had overturned a variety of North Carolina voting restrictions.
Barber offered insight about why this presidential election is the most important yet.
“We’re here to dramatize the fight that we’ve been in for more than three years,” said Barber, an NCCU alumnus. “To hold on to early voting and same-day registration, and to nullify the unconstitutional race driven photo I.D. law.”
Barber said North Carolina spent $6 million of the citizens’ money “to take and suppress the right to vote.”
Barber also said that there has never been any evidence of voter fraud; he insisted that the argument the N.C. government made in court in favor of voting restrictions was fraudulent in itself.
Quoting the court ruling, Barber described N.C. voter restrictions as “surgical racism,” meaning that African Americans were targeted by the Republican dominated state legislature with surgical precision to limit their vote.
Barber protested NCCU’s campus’ not opening for early voting until Oct. 27. Early voting runs through Nov. 5. In previous elections, the Alfonso Elder Student Union was a Nov. 8 election day polling site.
In response, he said the students and allies gathered behind him would march downtown to Durham’s Board of Elections “to dramatize how shameful it is that this precinct has been removed for early voting and how it will only be open on Oct. 27.”
Barber also encouraged everyone listening to vote, stressing that important issues like health care and public education were at stake.
“These are unique times,” said Barber. “North Carolina is right in the center of the national debate and will literally determine who will sit in the White House.”
He said NCCU campus organizations would participate in a massive march to the polls at 10:40 a.m. Thursday, the day the ballots open .
Barber talked about a 101-year-old woman, Grace Hardison, who was among 106 Beaufort County residents to have their voting eligibility challenged because candidate mailings were returned as undeliverable. The N.C. NAACP stepped in and rebutted the challenge.
“We fought, and just yesterday, we forced them to back up from that challenge,” said Barber. “Ms. Hardison should have never been challenged and had to defend herself.”
Hardison’s mail should have been mailed to her post office box, not her home address, he explained.
Barber said the march also wanted to tackle North Carolina flood victims’ accessibility to the polls.
The floods following Hurricane Matthew rendered several voting sites inaccessible in more than 30 counties across the state.
Barber said he and the group are demanding that the State Board of Elections have Saturday and Sunday voting, extend the hours of early voting in affected counties, add more sites to ensure access to the ballots, and set up mobile ballot units where necessary.
“This is our democracy. And it’s sad to see those who would attempt to suppress the vote in any way, shape, or form,” he said. “That is why two by two, these students are going to march to walk down to the polls.”
He passed the spotlight to Rebekah Barber, his daughter and an NCCU senior, who offered a few more words about why voting on HBCU campuses make a difference.
She said she used to be able to vote on Election Day in the Alfonso Elder Student Union.
“In 2008 and 2012, as we know specifically black students turned out in record numbers so there’s no reason to say we no longer need a polling site on campus,” said Rebekah Barber said. “There’s no reason to say that our site should be taken away. So here we are gathered today. It’s the first day of early voting.
“We understand that this election is important,” she said. “It’s the first presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. We’re going to keep fighting until the Voting Rights Act is restored. We’re going to keep fighting until our campus polling site is fully restored. ”
Andrea Harris, co-founder of Forward Cities and a Bennett College alumna, stepped in to speak about the millennials’ engagement in this year’s election.
“People always talk about the disengagement of millennials,” Harris said. ” Millennials are engaged. Millennials are taking leadership. We want them to know, while HBCUs are also under attack and threatened, we stand with them and their simple right to vote.”
At the end of the press conference, Barber stressed the importance of the Southern voter. “The South will determine the future of America,” he said.
“If you can control the former 13 confederate states, you can have what used to be called the ‘solid South,’” said Barber. “You control 26 U.S. senators, which means you only need 25 from the other 37 states. You control 31 percent of the House of Representatives, which means you need 19 to 20 percent from the other states. You control 163 electoral votes.”