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Ahead Of Midterms, Voting Rights And Wrongs In North Carolina

Olivia Sedwick, student government president of Winston-Salem State University, and Tom Hanchett, historian of the Levine Museum of the New South, offered perspective about voting rights.
Olivia Sedwick, student government president of Winston-Salem State University, and Tom Hanchett, historian of the Levine Museum of the New South, offered perspective about voting rights.

The run up to midterm elections has sparked many heated legal and ideological arguments over voting procedures and requirements. To understand the debate, I went to Charlotte, North Carolina for a live community conversation around these voting laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a North Carolina law to go into effect that eliminates same-day voter registration and reduces the number of early voting days.

Civil rights activist Charles Jones began the discussion when he shared a few of his personal experiences.
Travis Dove / NPR
Civil rights activist Charles Jones began the discussion when he shared a few of his personal experiences.

We heard from 77-year-old Charles Jones. He was heavily involved in voter registration efforts during the civil rights movement in 1960s. Jones shared a poignant story about a meeting he helped organize in Terrell County, Georgia to help African-Americans get comfortable with voting. The sheriff - also the local Ku Klux Klan leader - interrupted the meeting, but Jones emphasized the importance of standing up for yourself and making your voice heard.

"We have the option to help define our own lives," Jones said. "Involve yourself in learning from a factual base. Don't let anybody tell you what you ought to be doing, ought to be thinking."

Hans von Spakovsky, manager for Election Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and also a former member of the Federal Election Commission.
Travis Dove / NPR
Hans von Spakovsky, manager for Election Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and also a former member of the Federal Election Commission.

Hans von Spakovsky is the manager of the Election Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, and the co-author of Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk. He says the biggest reasons people fail to vote are not restrictive voter laws, but apathy and dissatisfaction with the candidates.

"The Census Bureau does a survey of non-voters and the biggest reason people don't vote has nothing to do with procedural issues...how you register, it's because they are not interested in politics, and they don't think their vote will make a difference, and they don't think that the candidates will really do anything for them," he said.

Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Travis Dove / NPR
Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Janai Nelson is the Deputy Director and Associate Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She talked about how minority communities and low-income Americans are most affected by more restrictive voting laws.

"I fear that we're at critical stage in our current history where we risk turning back the hands on the clock and going back to a time where we are - for a variety of reasons - restricting the people who can vote in this country," she said.

We wanted the conversation to go beyond the McGlohon Theater in Charlotte. We held our social media chat - in collaboration with member station WFAE and La Noticia, North Carolina's oldest Spanish speaking newspaper - in English and Spanish. You can follow that conversation here:

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