The recent massive, student-led marches against gun violence demonstrated our democracy at its best: people identified an issue, organized, exercised their freedoms of speech and assembly and resolved to hold their elected representatives accountable. And when these students spoke about accountability, voting emerged as a key “next step.”
Voting is another area where our democracy is on full display and where voters of all ages have a role to play. In North Carolina, that role begins with the hardworking officials who shape and administer our elections in all 100 counties. As detailed in a recent report by Democracy North Carolina, voters in 2016 faced malfunctioning equipment, long waits at the polls, and improperly-trained or discourteous poll workers. Among other steps, we’ve recommended that state and county officials respond by reviewing and improving poll worker trainings, developing a code of conduct that standardizes poll worker best practices and making sure there’s more consistency in North Carolinians’ voting experience.
The first thing the North Carolina General Assembly should do in May is end their threats to revive voting restrictions that hurt young voters and instead invest in real security that protects our elections from outside interference. Congress has passed a federal budget that includes $400 million for election technology and security improvements. We’re calling on North Carolina to provide the matching funds required to access these badly-needed resources for new machines that are more secure, added cyber protections and improved election preparedness.
Finally, each of us can follow through on the promise of the March for Our Lives by casting a ballot in 2018 and helping our state’s youngest voters do the same. A Democracy North Carolina analysis found that while 69 percent of our state’s registered voters cast ballots in 2016, only 53 percent of those aged 18 to 25 did so.
For the young people who organized and assembled in North Carolina and elsewhere, moving that passion for change to the polls will test not just that movement, but also our democracy. To help, we’re providing a timely resource to assist North Carolinians as young as 16- and 17-years-old to get involved in the electoral process.
Together we can build a secure, accessible election system that is supported by the administrators who run it, the lawmakers who shape it, and the public whose lives depend on it.
Executive director, Democracy North Carolina
Fight King’s battles
As we remember the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s important to recall that King’s visit to Memphis in 1968 was spurred by a battle over worker rights. North Carolina, like so many other Southern states, has weak protections for public-sector workers, such as the sanitation employees that King was in Memphis to champion.
Weak labor laws in the South are not accidental. Stunting unions has been part of a long-term effort to deny economic opportunity to blacks by using racism to diminish workers’ rights.
Today, every single Southern state has right to work laws that prevent unions from bargaining for wages, working conditions and fairness on the job.
Even worse, a decision in the Supreme Court case of Janus v. AFSCME could result in a new legal precedent that would make “right to work” the national norm. That would result in the kind of impacts we’ve seen in North Carolina: lower wages, less robust benefits and weaker protections for workers. That kind of outcome is about as far away from King’s legacy as imaginable. It would take workers, especially black workers, back in time to re-fight the same battles that King led.
Michael De Los Santos