Robert Dawkins and Bryan Perlmutter discuss how voters in this year’s most expensive campaign are subject to 2-hour wait times & inadequately prepared polling stations, and also speak about the Democrats’ connection to the grassroots
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Will the Republicans take over the Senate? It was a question everyone was asking on election day, and folks looked to the North Carolina [federal] senate race to get an answer. There, Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is neck-and-neck with the state’s house speaker, Thom Tillis. With more than $100 million spent on the race, it’s being called this year’s most expensive Senate race. And according to civil rights organization Advancement Project, it’s harder for African Americans to cast a ballot, due to inadequately prepared polling places and wait times that are twice as long than their white counterparts’. And we can’t forget about measures passed in the Republican-controlled legislature, including voter ID requirements, shortened early voting periods, and limits on same-day voter registration.
Now joining us from North Carolina to discuss the race are our two guests, Robert Dawkins and Bryan Perlmutter.
Robert joins us from Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s a field organizer and the and the political action chair of the NAACP in Charlotte.
And joining us from Durham is Bryan Perlmutter. Bryan is a North Carolina native and director of Ignite NC, which is a youth-led community organization.
Thank you both for joining us, gentlemen.
ROBERT DAWKINS, FIELD ORGANIZER, DEMOCRACY NC: Thank you.
BRYAN PERLMUTTER, DIRECTOR, IGNITE NC: Thank you so much for having us.
DESVARIEUX: So, Robert, let’s start off with you. You’ve been out there organizing, participating in those Moral Monday protests that we’ve covered here on The Real News. Can you just map out for us some of the key issues that were center stage in this race?
DAWKINS: Sure. So one of the main things, of course, has been voter disenfranchisement, whether it’s come from cutting our days to early vote to also adding things like provisions where you cannot place out-of-precinct provisional ballots. Those have been huge. And the issues go on and on past voter disenfranchisement, whether we’re talking about cuts to Medicaid, cuts to Medicare, cuts to education, taking education money and giving it to charter schools, cuts to women’s ability to have good health care and a women’s right to choose, trying passing amendment one. And the list goes on and on [incompr.] the conservative Thom Tillis-led administration. [incompr.]
DESVARIEUX: You mentioned the voter ID laws and things of that nature. Did you guys actually witness anything in particular? I’m going to turn to you, Bryan. What was the effect of the new voting laws have on this election?
PERLMUTTER: Yeah. So just to clarify one thing, it’s great to be on here with Robert, with Democracy North Carolina. We’ve been doing a lot of great work together, our organizations, over the past couple of months.
And so the new monster voting law is what it’s being called a North Carolina. That provision around the photo ID does not go into effect until 2016. But during this election cycle, we had no same-day registration, which has historically been a huge, huge thing that young people and African-American and people of color voters have used in North Carolina disproportionately.
And, again, the out-of-precinct ballot. So folks who may have been coming home from work and stopped at the closest precinct, or on their way to work this morning and they just stopped at a polling location, they could not cast a ballot there that counts. And that is huge. In previous years, they would be able to do that, and this year they couldn’t. At Chavis community center in Raleigh, North Carolina, today, there was over 375 people that showed up there to vote today that had to be moved to a different precinct. And so it’s hard to keep track of how many of those folks were able to cast a ballot today, because they’re being shuffled around, they’re being told they cannot vote in this location. And a lot of folks were showing up at places they had historically voted at. And maybe they casted a provisional ballot that would of course historically counted, and this new law made it so that those votes did not count.
In addition, the state and polling places seemed to be inadequately prepared for that. With seven days cut to early voting, we saw very, very long lines in places today. In Greensboro, North Carolina, I just got off of a field call where it was 9:20 p.m. and there were still folks in line at a precinct in Greensboro, North Carolina, that were waiting to cast a ballot that had been there for over two and a half hours.
And so we see this trend in North Carolina, that this is a race that is going to have–the federal senate race, which most people are paying attention to on a national level, that had all of these millions and millions of dollars spent on it–over $100 million of reported money that has come into the state, and we see that folks are being denied and disenfranchised and not be able to cast a ballot.
And so we’ve been working to have poll monitors out across the state today. We had over 400 folks, Democracy North Carolina and Ignite NC, monitoring precincts, standing outside today, helping direct folks to the right places, so when they did come and they weren’t sure where they needed to go, we had a hotline set up and we had volunteers on the ground helping to get folks places. And so–. Go ahead.
DESVARIEUX: I was going to say, Bryan, so you essentially were both trying to get people out there voting. But, Robert, I want to turn to you, because what was your message to citizens? I mean, you were talking to people there were already willing to vote. But what about everyday citizens? A lot of people don’t actually vote. And they’re frustrated with the status quo. Why should they even vote?
DAWKINS: Well, we spent a lot of time canvassing. In fact, over the past few days, we’ve been out knocking doors, Democracy North Carolina advocates, plus Ignite NC’s youth-led movement organizer here in Charlotte was out knocking doors. And we have to go further than telling people what they normally hear–people have fought and died for your right to vote–people trying to make it more personal. When we’re out in the neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods [we point out (?)] that under the conservative leadership here, not only did they cut Medicaid and Medicare, and it may affect your grandparents or it might affect somebody in your family that is disabled, but at the same time, the earned-income tax credit, which a lot of the women that live in the neighborhoods need to help survive, we pointed out that especially in our neighborhoods or our schools are already not equal and that the administration has taken money that should have gone to help make our schools be on a level playing field and giving those monies to charter schools.
And so what we’ve been doing is trying to take that overall message and make it more local, so that people can understand how these different voter suppression laws and these different cuts to all of the social services directly impact them. And I think it’s been going over pretty well. We usually go out and hustle to what we call flushing, where we go and knock on doors and give flyers out [incompr.] say, we’re going to be in the neighborhood providing rides. And once we go out and get the bullhorn, then we tell people, van’s coming down the street, get on the van. I think in the whole early-morning period, we’ve taken a little over 300 people, senior citizen facilities in lower income neighborhoods to vote, and that’s something that both Democracy North Carolina and Ignite NC’s pretty proud of.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s switch gears and talk about Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent. She said that she supports the Moral Monday protests, but she’s actually never been to one. And I want to get your take, Bryan. What’s your assessment of her connection to the grassroots movement?
PERLMUTTER: Yeah. So I just want to–it’s really, really important when we talk about this is that the demands of the Moral Monday movement and the Forward Together movement and the people who’ve been leading grassroots organizing efforts in North Carolina are focused around North Carolina-based issues. And right now in North Carolina, regardless of what ends up happening today in this federal Senate race, Pat McCrory is still the governor of North Carolina and still has the power under the North Carolina legislature to provide access to health care for folks. They have the power to provide a quality education by increasing the budget in North Carolina. And so making this federal senate race about issues that are happening in North Carolina and issues that when Senator Kay Hagan, when she was in the North Carolina legislature, refused to support a minimum wage increase–and so it’s not just about one particular candidate’s involvement, because, like you said–and it’s really important to point out that the Moral Monday movement and other movements that are happening in North Carolina are not affiliated directly with candidates. These are people’s movements that folks have been organizing. They’ve been coming together. They’ve been building community with each other to develop their own demands. So when politicians do interact, these movements are being led by people on the ground and not by politicians. And so it doesn’t surprise me. I was unaware of Kay Hagan’s–that she had never been to a Moral Monday. I would assume that a lot of politicians in North Carolina have not been to a Moral Monday.
And so I think that regardless of who wins this Senate race today, that the issues in North Carolina are still present and need to be solved and are going to be led and the organizing is going to be led by ordinary people who are directly affected by the issues on the ground in North Carolina. That comes down to public education funding and other issues that Robert mentioned.
DESVARIEUX: Are there any plans to make Moral Monday more political, like putting forth your own candidates for example, Bryan?
DAWKINS: So, yeah, as the political action chair in Charlotte, I can say that that’s not part of our movement. Our movement is something that’s bigger than Democrat or Republican. It’s taking all of this and looking at social justice and saying, what is moral? Or what if you are Muslim, Christian, and Jewish? There is one thing that all of these different religions have in common, and that’s a strong belief in social good and that morality is the most important thing. And that’s what the Moral movement’s about. In fact, the Moral movement’s been accepted by more, probably, conservatives that most people would expect.
And this movement will not end now. The movement started out way before we even called it Moral Monday. It used to be called HKonJ. The reason it became more moralistic and had to resort to things like civil disobedience is because the general assembly over the past couple of years would not even sit down and talk to us. So I just wanted to make sure your people understood that this movement’s been going on for a long time. We’ve been pushing for these changes. Under the previous administrations, we at least had open dialogue. We could see where it was headed. Under the current conservative administration, we were just totally locked out. And that’s what led to it being more civil disobedient. But the prime overarching thing here is moral integrity and not partisanship.
DESVARIEUX: Bryan, do you see that this movement at some point is going to have to turn a corner in order to get the change that you want? And specifically, if you’re looking at this Republican-controlled legislature, do you think at some point you guys are going to have to organize and be more political and potentially put your own candidates out there?
PERLMUTTER: I think there’s a lot of different organizations and people and movements that are making things happen in North Carolina. And so I don’t think it is up to individuals to make those decisions right now. I think that what we need to do is continue to engage people, to continue to bring folks together, to continue to make sure that folks have access to the ballot box, to continue to make sure that election day is one day during the year, but for the next year, for the next two years, while the legislature in North Carolina is what it is, we can continue to mobilize people, we can continue to advocate, we can continue to organize in our local communities around city councils, around school boards, around county commissioners, around the way budgets are allocated. And so the election is only one avenue in which we’re going to continue to fight for justice, and it’s one way we’re going to do that.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Bryan Perlmutter and Robert Dawkins, thank you both for joining us.
PERLMUTTER: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.