Opinion

NC – it’s time to be heard. Get ready to vote.

North Carolinians need to register by mail by October 12 (postmarks must have that date) or in person by November 3.  The regular voter registration deadline in 28 counties most affected by Hurricane Florence has been extended to 5 p.m. Monday, October 15
North Carolinians need to register by mail by October 12 (postmarks must have that date) or in person by November 3. The regular voter registration deadline in 28 counties most affected by Hurricane Florence has been extended to 5 p.m. Monday, October 15 jleonard@newsobserver.com

Since this isn’t a presidential year, more than 1.1 million North Carolinians who voted in 2016 are expected to sit this election out – or be discouraged by the state’s voter suppression scheme that was struck down only two years ago.

But, even though this is a midterm election, the stakes are sky-high. The next Congress will make crucial decisions about the future of the Trump Administration, healthcare for working families, tax windfalls for the wealthy, educational opportunities for our young people and Social Security and Medicare for older Americans.

Instead of being a bystander to historic decisions, you should make the most of your right to vote. North Carolinians need to register by mail by October 12 (postmarks must have that date, though voter registration deadline in 28 counties most affected by Hurricane Florence has been extended to 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15.) In-person voter registration ends Nov. 3.

You need to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6, to have your say about the public officials and public policies that will shape your future – and to defend yourself and other Americans against disenfranchisement.

Americans’ most fundamental freedom – the right to vote – has been under attack in North Carolina. In 2013, the state enacted one of the nation’s most restrictive voter suppression laws. It prohibited the IDs used most often by African Americans. And it also eliminated same-day registration, pre-registration for teenagers and out-of-precinct balloting for voters who mistakenly showed up at the wrong precinct in the right county.

The reason for all these restrictions: to discourage black voters. Overturning the law in 2016, a federal appeals court declared that North Carolina’s legislature had “enacted legislation restricting all – and only – practices disproportionately used by African Americans.”

Still, the same restrictive rules are in effect or under consideration in other states. Their purpose is to prevent people of members of marginalized groups, especially people of color, unmarried women and young people who, together, compose a clear majority of voting-age Americans – 62 percent nationally and 60.6 percent in North Carolina.

But this “Rising American Electorate” doesn’t register and vote in proportion to their growing numbers. At the beginning of 2018, 26.1 percent of African Americans, 32.7 percent of unmarried women, 31.1 percent of Latinos, and 38.6 percent of millennials were not yet registered to vote. And research projects that approximately 40 million members of these historically under-represented groups, including more than 1.1 million North Carolinians, will not vote this year.

This would be a disaster for democracy. Every American – and our system of self-government – suffers when so many of our fellow citizens don’t have a say in the nation’s leadership and direction. How can our elected officials decide who has healthcare coverage, who can afford to send their kids to college or who can retire without plunging into poverty unless they hear the voices and heed the votes of every segment of society? Without the participation of all the people, public officials will be out-of-touch, public policies will be ineffective, and government at every level will lack legitimacy.

You owe it to yourself, your family, your community and country to register and vote in this crucial election. This is not the year to stay home when crucial decisions are being made. This is the year to stand up and be counted.

Page Gardner is president and founder of the Voter Participation Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which has helped nearly 4 million Americans – including more than 150,000 North Carolinians – register to vote since 2004.

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