Young voters are ready to #IGNITEtheVote in North Carolina despite voter suppression efforts

Recent efforts in North Carolina to restrict youth voting will come back to bite. I'm certain of it because as a student, I've helped countless student peers navigate the complex process to vote. I know how explicit efforts to restrict youth voting are firing up my compatriots. Young people are told we have low participation in politics, and that we should participate more. But then, politicians try to pass voter restriction laws which make it harder to participate. Still, like it or not, youth voters are becoming more of a force in North Carolina. 

Gen Z voters like me are less inclined to affiliate with one party or the other and more inclined to vote on issues we care about. That makes us valuable to both parties courting our votes. There is a narrative out there that we are apathetic. It's bolstered by turnout numbers. They show only 24% of registered voters aged 18-25 voted in the 2022 midterms, compared to more than 70% of those over 66. That said, it means the youth vote can be significant in North Carolina when we do turn out and punch at our weight. Research by Tufts University shows North Carolina youth rank seventh across the country on that score. And a much larger share of newly registered voters in North Carolina are young voters.

It's one of the reasons I got fired up, as a student, to join a nonpartisan young women's political empowerment group. As a fellow for IGNITE, I helped students get more educated on political processes, by hosting debate watch parties, meet-and-greets with local politicians, ballot workshops, and ‘walk to the poll’ events to register people to vote on campus. Young people's voices matter in the democratic process and I wanted to help young people feel confident and educated to make themselves heard. 

Right now, the North Carolina legislature is inspiring young people to overcome apathy. One area we definitely do care about is abortion access. With the state making abortion illegal after 12 weeks on July 1, many young voters are getting off the fence. 

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 747 cleared the Senate in June and just passed the House Elections Law & Campaign Finance Committee, which means it could be voted on in the House at any time. It follows bills in Florida and Texas aimed at suppressing youth votes. And it will make it harder for students in North Carolina to vote. The omnibus bill, if passed, will be a disaster for democracy in North Carolina, limiting voting rights on several fronts. It will shorten the main-in ballot receipt deadline, eliminating the three-day grace period that has traditionally been used to allow for counting mailed ballots. It will require a “two-factor authentication process” for mail-in ballots, which is essentially signature verification. It will require voters using same-day registration to cast provisional ballots. It will make it easier to change voters eligibility. And it will ban private funding for election administration, which will mean voting options educational announcements, new voting machines, and new voting sites could be curtailed due to under-funding (many election offices are underfunded and rely on outside grants). The last time North Carolina passed a bill that restricted voting rights was 2013, and voting activists including sued and had the bill struck down by a Federal court. This one will be challenged, too.While Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the bill, those pushing the bill have a supermajority in the North Carolina legislature, meaning they can overrule his veto. 

I doubt very much whether the lawmakers passing this bill have been on Tik-Tok or Instagram recently. But they'll find a whole new generation's burgeoning interest in electoral politics through colorful graphics and short videos simplifying bills in layman’s terms. And one thing we hate is when older people try to deter us from doing something. I think the theory is that this bill will deter young voters by making voting more complex. But young people realize: If the state's lawmakers are going to such efforts to restrict our votes, we must be more powerful than we realized. Meanwhile, extremists linked to the new law have decried the ease of campus voting. They have said it is far too easy for our young people to cast a ballot

SB 747 follows a new voter ID rule sparking worries about fairness for Black and Latino voters. Starting in early voting for municipal elections last month, North Carolina voters must show a valid photo ID at the polls to vote. Such rules have a bigger impact on voters of color. Approximately 7% of registered voters lack an acceptable voter ID, say experts

The North Carolina Supreme Court initially shot down the voter ID law, originally passed by the legislature back in 2018. But a new majority on the court revisited the case earlier this year and reversed the court’s earlier decision, issuing a ruling in April. The court wrote that people in North Carolina support “efforts to promote greater integrity and confidence in our elections,” but as a voter in the state I am clear that the law was written to deliberately suppress the democratic will of voters of color. And as such it undermines integrity and confidence in our elections. Those are words which hide the true intent of the law. 

The state legislature has passed some extreme bills into law this session, including prohibiting the discussion of race during hiring decisions for state jobs, targeting trans students, and restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. This latest effort is by no means an outlier. Our lawmakers likely have the votes to pass these laws and override a gubernatorial veto. But having the power to do something doesn't make them a good idea. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overthrow attempts by our legislature to independently regulate our elections, independent of the courts, demonstrates the legislature’s tendency to overreach. In some ways, I'm tempted to tell the legislature; go ahead. Make my day. Pass these new laws. But only because I am excited about the wave of youth electoral engagement they will spawn. 

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