Intern Spotlight: Jessica Kincaid
My First Vote: Navigating North Carolina's Voting System
When I was growing up, politics was not really a big thing in our family—it wasn’t that my parents didn’t care, but keeping up with elections outside of national politics was simply not a priority in our household. As a young teenager, I preferred reading A Series of Unfortunate Events and watching That 70s Show rather than political blogs and C-SPAN. It wasn’t until late high school/early college that I took an active interest in politics, no doubt because I was constantly surrounded by students who shared that sense of enthusiasm.
My status as a political late-comer, I think, gave me a heightened sense of appreciation for accurate and accessible information, so, when I think back on my first major voting experience, the 2012 Presidential Election, my most vivid memory taps into the reality: voting in North Carolina, even as an actively engaged citizen, is not easy. In the days leading up to my casting my first vote, I was helplessly confused. Scores of misinformation from rumors clouded my sense of direction about registration, polling stations, specific dates for early voting, and requirements upon arrival at the polls. Some of my peers insisted my only appropriate polling station would be in my hometown of Greensboro, while some brushed off my concerns with a nonchalant “I’m sure you can vote somewhere on campus.” Somewhere in the not-unsubstantial amount of research I had to conduct in order to get valid information, I discovered a polling location at UNC’s Center for Dramatic Arts. I arrived nervously over-prepared on Election Day. Bearing all forms of supplementary ID I could think of: my student ID, social security card, health insurance card, credit card, and library card, I cast my vote. Fortunately for me, the process went smoothly: I did not, in fact, need any form of photo ID, my registration was in order, and I was thankfully at one of my—multiple—polling location options.
Since then, however, my home state of North Carolina has been making the voting process even more complicated, and happy endings such as mine more difficult to come by. In the absence of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, NC has implemented sweeping voter restrictions that will only place more of an undue burden on voters. By 2016, North Carolina will require strict voter ID requirements, and none of the documents I brought with me in 2012 will be accepted, not even a valid student ID issued by the university. NC will also bar 16 and 17 year olds from pre-registering, a stipulation that could significantly postpone the voting process, or even thwart it entirely. These restrictions will only compound the already intimidating prospect of voting in an election. If I experienced mild difficulties prior to these decisions, I cannot imagine how many voters will be discouraged by such legislative action.
In response to the potentially devastating effects of harsh voting restrictions on participation and civic engagement, I have turned to voting rights organizations like FairVote, which advocates for all citizens right to vote, free of burdensome restrictions and stipulations. North Carolina’s infringement on the fundamental right of all citizens to vote reveals the necessity of projects like Promote Our Vote. Through diligent advocacy and research, FairVote’s resources provide ample information and support for people struggling to have their voices heard, with the ultimate goal of eliminating this struggle altogether. By framing voting in terms of a fundamental right rather than a privilege, Promote Our Vote opens the door to innovative policies and practices that work to ensure fair and equitable voting rights for all. Without more robust participation, governments cannot claim to adequately represent citizens as a whole, and Promote Our Vote addresses the roots of this issue in its efforts to ensure voter participation, voter access, and suffrage rights. Such efforts will ideally enable the smooth sailing I was fortunate enough to encounter in my first voting experience, and improve the overall quality of our democracy.