About 100 people – mostly N.C. Central University students – attended an Student Government Association event, SOAR to the Polls, last Thursday.
“People say that we are the future, but in order to be that future we have to work in the present,” said Marcus Spates, a business administration junior and the SGA’s Director of Political Action. Spates played a key role planning SOAR to the Polls. His job was to pull in student and outside organizations and to make sure that the SGA had a united understanding of the importance of the event.
The event started at 10:40 a.m. in the New Student Center where students met before the march to the polls. Student organizations, including the SGA, the Men Achievement Center helped register voters before the march, while one outside organization, You Can Vote, helped pre-register as well as register voters.
One advocacy group present, the NC Black Alliance, had an attorney on site advocating for voters in the case of voter discrimination. Black Voters Matter State Organizing Manager, Alicia Cook, said that one of her organization’s key goals is “to increase power in marginalized black communities.”
Several Durham politicians also attended, including Leonardo Williams, a NCCU double alumnus who is a Durham city councilman and current mayoral candidate.
“I want to stand in solidarity … with young students. Also, I wanted to make sure that I show support here at NCCU,” said Williams, who stressed the importance of keeping the NCCU polling location open.
Monique Holsey-Hyman, NCCU professor of social work and at-large city council member running for re-election, was also present at SOAR to the Polls.
“They don’t understand the importance of municipal elections,” she said, referring to NCCU students.
Just before 11 a.m., the march began, led by members of NCCU’s Sound Machine. Students, faculty, along with Williams and Holsey-Hyman, marched down Nelson Street to the NCCU School of Law, one of Durham’s five early voting polling places. A brief speech was given by Aigné Taylor, campus coordinator for NC Black Alliance before voting began.
One student voter, Rhasha Barnes, a political science junior and Political Science Club president, said she was taking advantage of the event because she knew she would not be back in her hometown in time to vote.
“I feel like I understand why it’s done,” said Barnes explaining low youth voter turnout. She said there’s a “general apathy” among students, adding that if it were not for her studies in political science, she would be inadequately educated on the voting process.
On the Durham County Board of Elections website, anyone can track voter turnout for each polling place. Before the SOAR to the Polls event, the NCCU Law polling place was receiving on average around 28 voters a day compared to averages of 141 and 68 voters at other polling locations.
On Thursday after SOAR to the Polls, there were 60 votes cast and the turnout has only been increasing since then. Early voting will continue until November 4 and regular elections will be held on November 7.