By Brittany McGee
A woman sits in a lawn chair next to the white door, waiting for people to exit the brick building, so she can offer “I voted” stickers that have been conspicuously absent during this election cycle.
A young man and woman stand at their post, which is a table filled with colorful flyers under the large blue tent next to the sidewalk that leads toward the building. Blue and white campaign signs stick up in the ground in front of them.
“Would you like a Democratic sample ballot?” they ask voters as they pass the table.
Next to the blue tent is a smaller table. An older man in a “Make America Great Again” hat chats with the woman sitting with him. They just finished putting together their own display, complete with their own predominantly red campaign signs.
“We just wanted to come and make our presence known,” said the man. He greets everyone at the Carrboro Town Hall polling site.
All the canvassers, poll watchers and poll workers have been on the frontlines, watching the increase in young people and African Americans early voting, which experts indicate can potentially impact the results of the 2020 election.
According to TargetEarly, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 cast almost 640,000 ballots, and African Americans cast more than 920,000 in North Carolina through absentee ballots and early voting in 2020. These numbers are a significant increase from 2016, during which these groups cast around 400,000 and 700,000 respectively.
‘She knows the power in voting’
Diamond Blue makes her way past the man in the MAGA hat, politely accepts a ballot from the young woman under the blue tent, continues down the sidewalk and up the steps into the building from which four Black Lives Matter flags flew.
Blue was too young to vote in 2016, but she’s always been a politically charged person. Raised in Southern Pines until she was 13, her parents ensured she was educated on the key issues.
They raised her to be proud to be Black, teaching Blue to be firm in her morals and beliefs. She was raised to advocate not only for herself, but those in her community, too. Her mother regularly made her watch the news to see what was happening in the Obama Administration as a child.
“This is so important for you to see,” Blue’s mother would say. “A Black man running the country.”
When she was a child, Blue decided she wanted to be president like Obama; he was the only one who looked like her.
She wanted to be an example of what Black women can do. Though Blue is older, she holds to the importance and value of using her voice. She knows she wants to get rid of Trump, she knows she wants better policies for Black Americans and she knows the power in voting.
Because of her convictions, Blue is part of a demographic of voters who increased vastly from the 2016 elections to the 2020 elections.
A change of mindset
At the same polling site, Julia Yates leans against a bicycle rack holding the sticker she received from the woman sitting in the lawn chair outside the white door. She is joined by her friend, Ian McKeown, who had just finished filling out his ballot.
Both grew up in Onslow County, where Donald Trump prevailed by a 35-point margin in the 2016 election.
Yates and McKeown have spent their time at UNC-Chapel Hill learning about issues that weren’t discussed in their homes growing up. McKeown has been studying white supremacy, and Yates is a religious studies major.
“I’ve spent the last four years unlearning the conservative crap I’ve been fed all my life,” McKeown says with eyes rolling.
McKeown and Yates say that through their studies, they are more politically aware of and exasperated by the white supremacy and misinformation that has been circulating throughout the country.
The two have made two promises to themselves and each other: first, get Trump out of office, and second, stay an active voter for life.
‘Voting is a family affair’
14 miles away in Durham, the vibrant atmosphere is starkly different from the quietly active feeling at the Carrboro Town Hall.
There’s a full parking lot at the South Regional Library. A DJ is blasting early 2000s era hip-hop and R&B music. A green tent is set up by the Black Youth Project 100 where young activists are handing out information, water and candy in front of a sign that reads “Unapologetically Black.”
An artist is next to them, observing the action and creating images of Black faces.
A Democratic poll watcher asks everyone leaving the library if they had any issues voting.
Republican poll watchers from Washington D.C. stand awkwardly away from the crowd, politely joking about being assigned to a Democratic hotbed.
A young man in a yellow shirt with a clipboard assist people in cars inquiring about ballot drop-offs or curbside voting.
For this group of people, predominately Black, voting is a family affair. Parents bring their young adult children to vote.
To set an example, other parents bring their kids who are too young to understand. 28-year-old Norman Jones II brings his infant son, Kayson, for the first of what he promises to be a lifelong tradition. For them, not voting won’t be an option.
Like his mother did, Jones is setting the standard for his son.
Jones grew up in Washington, D.C. where he was surrounded by politics. He moved to North Carolina to attend North Carolina Central University. Though he majored in political science, he ended up working in the financial sector after graduation.
He came up in the Obama era and admittedly became complacent. However, he recognizes the importance of not only voting, but staying politically active between elections as well.
Biggest issues on each ballot differ
Many of the voters here are disillusioned with the political process, but still believe it was important to come out and vote anyway. Against the backdrop of months of protesting for Black Lives Matter, police brutality and white supremacy are the biggest issues on the ballot.
“We need to create and provide platforms to truly look out for our best interests and those in our community because we can’t always depend on politicians to do it,” Jones explains.
For some voters, the COVID-19 pandemic and economy are not at the forefront of the ballot.
Mother and daughter Gerri Self and Elisha Turrentine, who came to vote together, have always been active voters. For Self, 56, COVID-19 is not her main issue this election.
“We have to survive COVID, but we have to survive the police, too.” Self says, her voice hard.
Back in Carrboro, Blue smiles proudly, showing off her sticker.
She is young, but engaged. She might be the type of voter Kayson will one day grow up to be. She knows what the news has been saying about the turnout for people like her, and she is optimistic. But right now, she’s just celebrating finally being old enough to make a difference.
This is what her parents taught her.
They taught her to vote.
Edited by Annelise Collins