Livingstone Students Get Out for Early Voting
By Laurie D. Willis
Special to The HBCU Digest
Just before 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, Shannon Davis entered a voting booth at the Rowan County Public Library in Salisbury, N.C.
Minutes later, she inserted her ballot into a vote counter, grabbed an “I Voted” sticker and walked out.
Davis, a senior biology major at Livingstone College, couldn’t contain her excitement. Words conveyed what her smile couldn’t.
“I’ve never voted before so I was kind of nervous,” said Davis, 21 of Charlotte. “After I voted I felt empowered. Wow! I actually voted.”
Davis was among about 150 Livingstone students who participated in early voting – which ends Nov. 3 in N.C. – for the 2012 Presidential Election. Area churches and a funeral home pitched in to help transport students to voting sites.
Dr. M.J. Simms-Maddox, chairwoman of Livingstone’s History and Political Science Department, has worked tirelessly to prepare the Livingstone campus for the election.
She wants to ensure Livingstone students fully understand their constitutional right to vote, when, where, why and how to vote in Salisbury-Rowan, the decorum of local polling places and the use of paper ballots.
Across the country, HBCU students are expected to participate in early voting.
At Livingstone College, enthusiasm is high.
“I was taken aback as students began gathering on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie Library around 10:10 a.m.,” Simms-Maddox said. “One by one each student said, ‘I’m here for early voting.’ By 10:30 a.m. there were students all around me, and the steps were packed.”
The students were so eager they started trying to board the vans before Simms-Maddox was finished talking to them.
“Once I gave them final voting instructions they were off,” she said. “We’d told them to gather by 11 a.m., but they came early, and I mean early. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been as proud of Livingstone College as I was today. Today, Livingstone College showed forth itself in a magnificent way. God is good.”
TyNesha Lias was excited when she exited the Rowan County Public Library on Oct. 22 – the day incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney engaged in their third and final debate.
“I have two stickers so in case I lose one people will still know I voted,” said Lias, a freshman sports management major from Charlotte. “Voting was interesting. I feel like I made a difference.”
About 15 minutes after they voted, Lias and Davis joined other Livingstone cheerleaders in a chant apropos for the occasion. Standing in two rows of four, they chanted, “Vote-vote. Get up and vote. Let’s go LC Bears. Get up and vote!”
Before returning to campus, Davis called her grandmother, Arzella McCain, to tell her she had just voted in her first presidential election. She said her parents, Leona and Anthony Davis, encouraged her to vote but didn’t try to sway her. “My daddy always says ‘I’m never going to tell you who to vote for; just do what you think is right.’ ”
While riding back to Livingstone, the students talked excitedly about voting. They also discussed issues highly relevant to students at historically black colleges and universities – like Pell grants, financial aid and low-interest student loans. Simms-Maddox said their enthusiasm was especially pleasing because it wasn’t spawned by an athletic contest or a chance to get out of class.
“The students finally get it,” she said. “We’ve preached and preached for years about the struggles of various groups of people, including African-Americans and women, to obtain the right to vote. The recent uprisings in The Middle East, called The Arab Spring, demonstrate a desire for freedom and the right to practice democracy.
“Now many of them will have the right to vote and the right to get an education for the first time in their lives, especially women,” Simms-Maddox continued. “People of my generation relate to the Civil Rights Movement, but now our students see faces of young people who look just like them in Egypt, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries who are fighting for freedom and other civil rights that we take for granted, especially the right to vote.”
Jody Hill, 20, a junior sports management major from Detroit, said he felt good after voting on Oct. 22. Hill is a shooting guard for the Blue Bears.
“I feel like by going out of their way to ensure we voted, Livingstone showed us they care about us as individuals and not just students who attend their school,” Hill said. “I also feel good because it was my first time voting, and it was a great experience.”