Just weeks after arriving back on campus, Winston-Salem State University students are mobilizing for a cause that hits close to home.
New Forsyth County Board of Elections Chairman Ken Raymond has been vocal about wanting to do away with the early voting site at WSSU’s Anderson Center, where thousands, including many students, cast ballots in 2012. The Anderson Center has been used as an early voting site in presidential and midterm election cycles, so any decision would not take effect until 2014.
Raymond, a WSSU alumnus who played on the school’s football team, served as a precinct judge at the Anderson Center in 2010. He says he did not like what he saw.
“Some of the students that came in and voted talked openly about receiving extra credit for voting,” Raymond told The Chronicle after being appointed to the board in July. “This isn’t something that someone told me … I heard it myself. They talked as if they didn’t know they were doing something wrong. But it is wrong – in fact it’s a felony.”
WSSU packed last Tuesday’s Board of Elections meeting. Although Raymond had made it clear that the topic of 2014 early voting sites would not be discussed, Student Body President Bryant Bell said the students wanted to show that they will fight to keep the Anderson Center site, especially after Republican-led Watauga County Board of Elections voted recently to end the early voting site at Appalachian State University.
“I was upset by it because obviously for the past couple of months or so in the state of North Carolina, college students have been somewhat under attack,” said Bell, a senior economics major. “They’ve been trying to put up as many barriers as possible to keep college students from voting. The elimination of the Anderson Center is a strategic attempt to suppress the college student vote.”
Last week, Bell, a Durham native, and his fellow student leaders took to social media to get the word out about the meeting. Nearly 60 WSSU students showed up, so many that the meeting had to be moved to a larger room.
Although they were not allowed to address the issue directly, WSSU students Kashira Coleman, Sha’Derrickah Henderson and BreAnna Holmes said they felt it was important to show their support for keeping the voting site.
“We all have used the Anderson Center to vote, and so we feel that it’s just a shame that they want to take that opportunity away from us,” said Holmes, a native of Virginia. “…Once we heard the news, it really just took off and everybody just felt really passionate about it because everybody is (affected) in some way.”
Critics say boards of elections across the state, which are now controlled by the GOP since the election of Gov. Pat McCrory, are working with Republicans in the General Assembly to suppress minority and Democratic voters via voter ID legislation and the closing of voting sites used heavily by minorities and young people.
“It’s no secret – they’ve been trying to get rid of that voting place at Winston-Salem State for years,” declared former Board of Elections Chair Linda Sutton. “It’s a trend now going across the state, and they’ve got the votes to do it, but the students are fired up. They’re so fired up they came out en masse, but even so, they’ve got the votes to do it.”
Local defense attorney Michael Grace also railed against the Board’s proposed actions, which many believe have merely been delayed because of the ample negative media attention the state’s GOP has received.
“The attempt to disenfranchise the students at Winston-Salem State University is probably the most racist thing that’s happened around here in a lot of years,” Grace said.
But Republicans aren’t the only ones scrutinizing college voting sites. Former City Council Member Joycelyn Johnson, a Democrat, lost her seat in the 2009 primary to then-WSSU student Derwin Montgomery, who coasted to victory by mainly winning the votes of his classmates. She has concerns about students voting in municipal elections because she believes many students from other cities and states vote without knowing about the real issues that affect the local community.
“It’s a challenge,” said Johnson, who is running to reclaim the East Ward seat. “I would just like for folks to be informed and have access to people and issues and know what they’re making decisions about before they cast their vote, because it affects the whole community.”
Bell said the students will remain vigilant in monitoring the board’s actions in the months to come.
“We want him (Raymond) and everyone else to know that we are watching them closely and we will be on guard for anything that may come in the future as it relates to eliminating the Anderson Center as an early voting site and anything else that they may be planning,” said the 21 year-old. “This woke up a lot of our students.”
Attempts to reach Raymond for this story were unsuccessful.