Getting Out The Black Vote in North Carolina: 'Our End Goal Is To Make Sure They Get To The Polls'
On Oct. 24, the NAACP held a homecoming encouraging Black voters across the country to “Black the Vote” and cast a ballot this election. The homecoming was streamed live and featured performances and discussions about getting out the vote.
While COVID-19 has caused most rallies and in-person events to transition to virtual spaces, there are still phone banks and some 200,000 NAACP volunteers in North Carolina engaging the state’s 1.5 million registered Black voters.
“People are really excited,” said Marcus Fairley, the group’s North Carolina state civic engagement coordinator. “They’re really enthused, and we’re using that energy to push us through Nov. 3.”
North Carolina is one of eight states the NAACP is focusing on during this 2020 election season. Fairley says the group is nonpartisan and not officially endorsing any candidates, and is encouraging all voters to cast a ballot.
“[We’re] making sure people have a plan to vote and they’re getting out to vote," he said. "It’s good to have registration and it’s good to make sure people have high energy and that we get them engaged, but our end goal is to make sure they get to the polls.”
The NAACP is also launching the Black Voices Change Lives initiative — which encourages Black voters to pass the message on to others.
Wayne Gibson of Charlotte has been doing that on his own — from texting his group chat of golf friends to calling family members in other states.
“Well, I vote in every election, because I have friends and relatives that died for that right," Gibson said. "But I vote in everything from the dog catcher all the way up.”
Balancing the national budget, crime and education are the issues that got him in line for the first day of early voting in North Carolina to cast a ballot for Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
“I thought because I got there at 8 and on the first day, it wouldn’t be long, but I didn’t care whether it was 90 minutes or nine hours or whatever. It’s so important,” Gibson said, noting he has voted in every election for which he has been eligible.
I didn’t care whether it was 90 minutes or nine hours or whatever. It’s so important.
Kimberly Marshall also votes in every election, but she is waiting until Nov. 3 to cast a ballot.
“No, I haven't voted yet,” Marshall said. “I'm big [on going] to the polls the day of the election. My mom was very adamant about exercising your civic duty. So my mom literally used to get dressed up to go to the polls.”
But before Marshall casts her ballot on Election Day — the day before her birthday — she has spent time canvassing and hosting a YouTube show.
She is voting for President Donald Trump and hopes he gets reelected. The past four years have been good to her and her son, she said, and she gives Trump the credit.
“He had difficulty finding employment that would sustain him and his children," Marshall said of her son. "And now, under this president, he’s been able to find a really good job with benefits and stuff.”
Marshall says education is an important topic for her, especially in response to COVID-19.
While Black voters tend to support Democratic candidates, Marshall says no political party should feel like the Black vote is guaranteed.
Voters like Marshall and Gibson are part of the 22% Black voting block in North Carolina.
Julia Jordan-Zachery, the chair of the Department of Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, said the Black vote cannot be taken for granted.
“People have got to recognize that they actually have to do the work to get these individuals out to the polls,” Jordan-Zachery said. “I’m not talking about exciting them and stuff like that, but speaking to their needs."
In the 2016 presidential election, North Carolina’s Black voter turnout was 64% — lower than in 2012 and its peak in 2008 when turnout hit 73%.
Jordan-Zachery is hesitant to compare this election to prior ones. But she said the COVID-19 pandemic could drive voters to cast a ballot, as the pandemic is something that affects everyone’s daily lives.
There have also been challenges with a higher number of Black absentee ballots being denied, and voters of every demographic are changing how they vote due to the pandemic.
But Jordan-Zachery says that history has proven that Black voters have faced hardships before.
“Given everything that Black people are experiencing from racial violence, directly and indirectly — COVID-19, economic hardships — they are going to find a way to do this," she said. "And I think that’s what a lot of people overlook about the Black experience, is the adaptability.”
Data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections shows about half of the registered Black voters in the state have cast a ballot already.
Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
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