Commentary, Defending Democracy

Now what? Democracy NC leader on what’s next for the #MarchforOurLIves movement

In case you missed it earlier this week, Tomas Lopez, the Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina had a great quick take on what needs to happen next with the energy that’s arisen in student-led “March for Our Lives” movement.

Important Next Steps After the March for Our Lives

The recent massive, student-led marches against gun violence demonstrated our democracy at its best: people identified an issue, organized, exercised their freedoms of speech and assembly, and resolved to hold their elected representatives accountable. And when these students spoke about accountability, voting emerged as a key “next step.”

Like this weekend, voting is another area where our democracy is on full display and where voters of all ages have a role to play.

In North Carolina, that role begins with the hard-working officials who shape and administer our elections in all 100 counties. As detailed in a recent report by Democracy North Carolina, voters in 2016 faced malfunctioning equipment, long waits at the polls, and improperly-trained or discourteous poll workers. Among other steps, we’ve recommended that state and county officials respond by reviewing and improving poll worker trainings, developing a code of conduct that standardizes poll worker best practices, and making sure there’s more consistency in North Carolinians’ voting experience, no matter where or when they cast a ballot.

But our local voting systems need support from state lawmakers, too. The first thing the North Carolina General Assembly should do in May is end their threats to revive voting restrictions that hurt young voters and instead invest in real security that protects our elections from outside interference. Last week, Congress passed a federal budget that includes $400 million for election technology and security improvements. We’re calling on North Carolina to provide the matching funds required to access these badly-needed resources for new machines that are more secure, added cyber protections, and improved election preparedness.

Finally, each of us can follow through on the promise of this weekend by casting a ballot in 2018 and helping our state’s youngest voters do the same. A Democracy North Carolina analysis found that while 69 percent of our state’s registered voters cast ballots in 2016, only 53 percent of those aged 18 to 25 did so. For the young people who organized and assembled in North Carolina and elsewhere, moving that passion for change to the polls will test not just that movement, but also our democracy. To help, we’re providing a timely resource to assist North Carolinians as young as 16- and 17-years-old to get involved in the electoral process.

To make sure those students’ civic engagement does not end in the streets this weekend, we have to make sure that they and other North Carolina voters have unencumbered access to our polling places this year, free from the challenges experienced by voters in 2016.

Together we can build a secure, accessible election system that is supported by the administrators who run it, the lawmakers who shape it, and the public whose lives depend on it.

Tomas Lopez is executive director of the nonpartisan voting rights organization, Democracy North Carolina. For more information and resources on actions you can take to help students vote, visit democracync.org

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