Colleges help students vote early
By Karissa Minn and Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY - This week, two local colleges are taking their students on field trips to the polls.
Buses gave Livingstone College student athletes a ride Monday morning to both early voting locations in Salisbury - the Rowan Public Library headquarters and a former Department of Social Services building on Mahaley Avenue.
This morning, Livingstone upperclassmen will board buses to vote. Then, freshmen and sophomores will get their chance for the next two Fridays.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College also is helping its students get to early voting sites. It offered transportation from the North Campus in Salisbury on Tuesday, and it will provide rides for students at the college's South Campus in Concord from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.
M.J. Simms-Maddox, chair of Livingstone's history and political science department, said many of the younger students have never voted before. They only know about the electoral process from what they've learned in class.
"We teach the significance of the civil rights movement and the quest for equality, especially for the right to vote for all of these groups in American society," Simms-Maddox said. "Teaching it and talking about it in the classroom is one thing. But these students, for the first time, have the experience to know what it is to vote."
Tynesha Lias, a freshman, was so excited about her first time voting Monday that she asked for two "I Voted" stickers - just in case she lost one.
"It changes the world. It really does make a difference," Lias said.
Livingstone is providing two of the vehicles used to transport its students, Simms-Maddox said, and several area churches also are lending their vans and drivers free of charge.
Other early voting locations include the Cleveland Town Hall and the Spencer Municipal Building. The east branch of the Rowan Public Library Rockwell opens its polls today, and the library's south branch in China Grove will open to voters on Thursday.
The state's early voting period began Oct. 18 and ends Nov. 8. Check www.rowancountync.gov for a complete list of Rowan County locations and times, as well as a sample ballot.
Robert Flint, a Livingstone freshman, said voting makes him feel like he "did something great."
"I think we've got to do this, because this is our life," Flint said. "This is our future."
Jody Hill, a junior, said he's concerned about whether financial aid benefits to students will be reduced, because some low-income people need them in order to get an education.
Voting is a way he can make his voice heard, and he said he likes that Livingstone is helping him do that.
"It makes you feel like they care about you more as a person than just as a student at their school," Hill said.
Flint agreed, saying the effort makes them want to vote.
"There's really no excuse for us not to," he said.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College also is giving students a lift to the polls.
On Tuesday, the Student Government Association offered rides to anyone interested in early voting at the Rowan Public Library.
"We want to let them know that they have a voice and their voice matters," SGA president James Hopkins said. "We want to see them take charge and get out and vote."
Student Clarice Spencer hitched a ride Tuesday afternoon after her morning classes wrapped up.
"I think this is an excellent idea," she said.
Spencer said she's been an avid voter for years, volunteering at the polls and talking to people about the issues and candidates.
"I realized that instead of sitting and watching that I need to participate in this thing," she said. "I figured maybe one vote does make a difference."
Spencer said she always makes a point to vote before Election Day.
"I kind of got into the model of voting early because I don't like to go through all the hoopla of waiting in line," she said. "I make sure to get in before the masses."
Natasha Lipscomb, the college's director of student life and leadership, said the SGA began transporting students to the polls in 2010 when the $12 million bond referendum was on the ballot. The free service has continued ever since then.
"We want them to be engaged," she said. "It's not OK just to be here and not learn about the democratic progress."
Lipscomb said SGA won't be offering rides on Election Day Nov. 6 because there are so many polling places.
But she said the college will be reminding students to vote by sending out emails and posting signs throughout campus.
Nancy Evans, Rowan County's elections director, said students living on a college campus can choose to register and vote in either their current county or their home county."If they're doing same-day registration, they have to have a student photo ID along with a document from the school showing their name and current address," Evans said.
Thanks to a 2007 law, North Carolinians can register at a one-stop early voting site on the same day they cast their ballot from Oct. 18 to Nov. 3.
To register, voters must bring proof of residency and identification. A full list of acceptable documents is available online at www.rowancountync.gov by clicking the "Departments" drop-down menu at the left and choosing "Board of Elections."
For more information, call the Rowan County Board of Elections at 704-216-8140.