More than 100 Livingstone, Catawba students gather to vote in primary
By Mark Wineka
More than 100 Livingstone College students, many of whom said they were participating in an historic election, marched to the Rowan County Board of Elections office Thursday and voted in the presidential primary.
“I’m very excited, this is a great turnout,”‘ said Shantel Isidore, an English major at Livingstone who served as chief organizer of the march.
Democracy North Carolina, a non-partisan group that focuses on grass-roots organization to promote voter participation and fair elections, also provided a banner and T-shirts for the marchers and what Organizing Director Adam Sotak described as “logistical support.”
“It’s wonderful to see people energized about voting,” Sotak said of the youthful group, which included 112 student marchers from Livingstone alone.
About 15 students from Catawba College also showed up at the elections office to vote Thursday morning.
“Catch them early and keep them involved,” Sotak said, adding that citizens who vote as young adults usually make it a lifetime habit.
Democracy North Carolina, based in Durham, worked to have the law passed that allows voter registration and voting on the same day.
The back of the Democracy North Carolina T-shirts that many students wore said, “Sometimes it takes a four-letter word to be heard: Vote.”
Livingstone’s community service program, headed by Eldridge Williams, also helped the students pull things together for the non-partisan march.
The Barack Obama campaign played a visible role in the get-out-the-vote effort, too, and many of the Livingstone students waiting in line to vote said they would be casting their ballots for Obama.
Freshman Toni Ingram said she liked that Obama doesn’t look at citizens as black, white or some other color. To him, she said, they’re American.
“I like that ó that’s what we all are, we’re American,” she said.
Of the long march from campus with so many of her fellow students participating, Ingram said, “it was a great accomplishment. We’re making history.”
The Livingstone students assembled in front of Varick Auditorium about 9:45 a.m. and walked down Institute Street and onto West Innes Street for the highly visible march to the elections office..
Kareem Morris, a 20-year-old junior accounting major and a first-time voter in a presidential primary, said Obama represents a change in society.
“I like his views,” Morris said. “He seems like he’s willing to help out the African-American society.”
North Carolina, whose primary election day is May 6, could still have an impact in the close Democratic race between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The students voting Thursday were taking advantage of the early-voting period, which lasts through May 3 at the Board of Elections office in Salisbury and two satellite locations ó the South Rowan branch of Rowan Public Library on Kimball Road and the East Rowan library branch in Rockwell.
Justin Brunson, a Livingstone senior from New York City, said he sees parallels between Jesus Christ and how people attacked his teachings and Obama and how he has been attacked through his minister, along with his viewpoints and beliefs.
Carol Sims, a Livingstone student from Winston-Salem, said it meant a lot to her Thursday to vote for a president for the first time. She agreed that it could be an historic year.
“And that’s a great feeling,”‘ Sims said.
As he waited to vote, freshman Francis Holcomb of Hertford said he was still torn between Obama and Clinton. Only 18, Holcomb said he was excited about the chance to vote for the first time.
Isidore, a 22-year-old sophomore, said she was watching a “Larry King Live” program in February that spurred her to become involved in this year’s election. The first thing she did was try to find out how many students on campus were registered to vote.
She led a registration drive March 31 during which 300 students registered. She also laid plans with Democracy North Carolina for the march to vote.
It makes sense for many of the students to register to vote in Rowan County, Isidore said.
“We’re going to be here four years, so why not vote here?” she said. The college students in Salisbury will be here for the November general election, too.
On campus, Isidore said, presentations were made for all three major presidential candidates, including John McCain, the likely Republican nominee. Many students are informed about the election, especially the presidential race, she added.
Several students acknowledged that they intended to vote only in the presidential primary and not for state and local offices because of their unfamiliarity with the candidates.
Livingstone and Catawba students are in their last week of school before final exams, and most students will not be in Salisbury for the May 6 primary ó so the early voting made sense, Isidore noted.
“I think it was very important,” Lilli Blackmore, a Catawba College junior said of the student interest in the presidential election. “A lot of people are very excited about the candidates.”
Blackmore participated recently in a weeklong voter registration drive at Catawba College and has been a local volunteer for the Obama campaign. She credited Livingstone students with organizing Thursday’s event and inviting Catawba to participate.
Terri Stevenson, associate director of student activities at Livingstone, said Thursday’s march was meant to be non-partisan and reflective of school President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins’ wish that all students be registered voters.
“Most of these students are already registered,” Stevenson said as the students marched by on West Innes Street. “This is an excellent turnout.”
Walking with the group was Dr. Stanley J. Elliott, vice president of student affairs.
Several Livingstone College alumni stood along the route to support the students.
Emily Perry, who has been an active local volunteer for Obama, said she was encouraged to see Catawba and Livingstone students working together in the election process and how it’s an important way to help bring the community together.
Rowan County Board of Elections Director Nancy Evans said she set up one extra computer to handle any students who were not already registered. Only 17 students had to register, she said.
Evans commended her staff and the students for helping the voting process go smoothly and quickly Thursday morning.
The main elections office and the library branches are open for early voting during the week. They also will have special hours on the last day of early voting, May 3, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Salisbury elections office and from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the library branches.Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.