After waking up at 8 am to cast my vote before class I spent March 15th at a local Winston-Salem high school poll monitoring for the NC primary. We were tasked with surveying voters as they exited to gather data for a study and monitoring the polling place to answer their questions and advocate for their rights. The study aimed to determine the effects of North Carolina’s new voter ID laws. What struck me as most interesting about our polling place were our interactions with the high school students. The students would pass by us as they headed out to lunch or hung around outside between classes. I think because we looked closer to their age they were comfortable coming up to us and asking questions.
The school was, like many in America, very segregated. However they were not arranged in cliques of band geeks, cheerleaders and football players. Instead they grouped themselves based on race*. The students seemed to be mainly Latino or African American and stuck to their respective groups. The Latino students in particular all spoke among themselves in Spanish which probably prohibited integration. In my Latino political behavior class we discussed this phenomenon of self-segregation among minority groups. It was fascinating to observe it in reality. Self-segregation by minorities is relevant from a voter turnout perspective because minority groups often have overlapping interests and could have much more power as a voting bloc if they advocated for their issues together. However, across America, much like at this high school they have trouble coming together. Other minority groups, particularly working class African Americans, see Latinos as a threat to their own livelihoods. Latinos also tend to hold negative views of African-Americans. Despite facing very similar challenges and discrimination the stereotypes and animosity persist between working class minorities. Hillary Clinton’s strong support by Latinos and African Americans shows a place of commonality and an avenue towards cooperation and understanding.
We overheard a discussion by the Latino students about Mr. Trump as they all hung around watching us hand out surveys and speak to voters. Clearly, these students were interested in the election and following news coverage. Many students who were eligible to vote came up to ask us if they could register that day or if they could just go in and vote. Because the new laws eliminated same day registration they could not. A significant number of students were turned away. This younger minority voting bloc was being deterred by these new voter ID laws. The presence of a polling place at their high school and presumably in their district should have made the process convenient for them and their parents, and yet we encountered none who had registered and many who were unsure if they were in the correct precinct. The importance of engaging young voters cannot be understated. This was the perfect opportunity to engage our country’s next generation of voters and these students were thwarted by the new voter laws.
Students at this particular high school were based on our observation primarily minorities. This group was definitely deterred consistent with the predictions that the new NC laws would disproportionally affect minority groups. I found anecdotally that even among my Wake Forest peers the new laws were a deterrence for college students. Many of my friends who attend a top 25 private university did not vote in the primary. Most are from NC and did not understand they had to either vote absentee or drive back to at least their county and preferably their precinct to vote. One did not know how to register. Others did not have the necessary ID. Still others were too disenchanted with the candidates on the ballot to bother taking the time to vote. One claim she did not know enough about the candidates.
Voter participation has long been linked to level of education. The more educated someone is the more likely they are to vote. If students privileged enough to attend a school like Wake Forest are not voting who is?
Sophia Rossell Romo
*I want to acknowledge that race is a social construct not a biological reality.