By Chad Nance
On Friday, in response to a press inquiry and a story published by CCD regarding what appears to be a systematic approach to voter suppression by the North Carolina Republican Party to be carried out by county Boards of Elections, CCD was contacted by Forsyth County BOE Chairman Ken Raymond. In the course of that conversation Mr. Raymond implied that the Forsyth County BOE will prosecute college professors and High School teachers who give extra credit to their students for voting. Following that conversation CCD learned from a source (and have since confirmed) that Chairman Raymond has also inquired as to whether or not Sheriff’s Office Deputies could be placed at Winston-Salem and Forsyth County polling places and at all future Board of Elections meetings. This tactic of intimidation goes all of the way back to Reconstruction and was widely used during the Jim Crow era to intimidate minority voters. Placing officers at polling places has been used for voter intimidation to the extent that it is actually against elections law in some states.
During a brief interview, Mr. Raymond reiterated his intention to close down the early voting location at Winston-Salem State University. He once more re-iterated that his main reason was because of a student he claims to have over heard saying that a professor had promised extra credit in order to encourage his students to vote. “I heard it. I took it to the Board of Elections and they would not do anything.” Raymond said, “It is illegal to do that. It is a felony.”
Raymond cited N.C. General Statute 163-275, subsection 2. He read aloud the text ending with: “It is unlawful for “any person to give or promise or request or accept at any time, before or after any such primary or election, any money, property or other thing of value whatsoever in return for the vote of any elector.”
CCD contacted Robert Joyce at the North Carolina School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill. Mr. Joyce is the Charles Edwin Hinsdale Professor of Public Law and Government and is an expert, among other areas, in elections law. “That statute has never been interpreted in that manner.” Mr. Joyce stated. Mr. Joyce pointed out that it is possible that the statute could be used in an attempt to prosecute, but re-iterated that, “It has simply never been applied in that way.”
CCD asked Chairman Raymond if he intended to prosecute any professors or teachers who offered extra credit to their students for doing their civic duty and voting- even if the educator in question did not demand the students vote for a particular party, candidate, or ballot initiative. Raymond hesitated, then said. “If I were them I would walk very carefully and follow the law.”
“So you are saying that you will prosecute teachers who try to encourage students to vote?” CCD followed up.
“The Board would have to look at that very carefully.” Raymond answered.
When informed of Raymond’s implication that he would prosecute educators, Forsyth Co Board of Elections Member Flemming El-Amin told CCD, “It is just blatant. There is clearly a systematic approach state-wide to suppress the vote of particular populations.” Mr. El-Amin found the idea of prosecuting professors and teachers laughable, but re-iterated that it was an intimidation tactic by Raymond to try and discourage students from voting. “When you look at what the Voter ID bill contained as far as cutting the program which encouraged students to register and to vote it becomes obvious what is going on and how this is all tied together in a single effort.” Mr. El-Amin said.
More troubling is that Mr. Raymond has spoken to Forsyth County Board of Elections Director Rob Coffman to inquire about placing Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputies at all polling places and all Board of Elections meetings. This was confirmed on Monday by Mr. Coffman. “He asked what the process would be to put officers at meetings and polls.” Coffman said. “It would be unlikely for election day and there is a question of necessity. There are some states that allow it, but that is often seen as intimidation.”
Mr. Coffman pointed out that placing law enforcement at the polls or BOE meetings would have to be voted on by the full BOE first. “The board will have to discuss the cost and why it would be needed.” The Forsyth County BOE just refused two new early voting sites claiming that they would cost too much. The county does not pay for them, the city does, but the facts were not considered germane to the decision.
The tactic of placing law enforcement officers at polling places as voter intimidation harkens back to the days of Reconstruction and was widely used during the Jim Crow era. Cash Michaels is a journalist, commentator, and the editor of The Carolinian, an African-American newspaper in Raleigh, who speaks and writes about Civil Rights issues in North Carolina. Michaels told CCD that in 2012 he had been part of a group of people who asked the State Board of Elections (then under Democratic Party control) if law enforcement could be placed at polling places to protect against alleged voter intimidation by Tea Party activist and paid “poll workers“. At that time the state board informed Michaels that they were “Reluctant to call law enforcement in to polls because that had historically been used as a voter intimidation tactic.”
“This is definitely a form of oppression and intimidation. It is unlawful and it is Unconstitutional.” Said Rev. Willard Bass of the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity and the Institute for Dismantling Racism. “It must be stopped.” Rev. Bass said. “It is a form of institutional racism. Before the Civil Rights movement we were forced to go through hoops in order to vote. These systematic voter suppression is just another step backward.”
Chairman Raymond has not returned calls inquiring about his request to place Sheriff’s Deputies at polls and board meetings.
Efforts to discourage, and make difficult, voting by college students in Winston-Salem appears to be part of a larger and more coordinated state-wide effort. Pasquotank County GOP Chairman, Pete Gilbert, has gone on record with the Associated Press saying that he will be challenging the right to vote of every college student he possibly can and he encouraged Republicans across North Carolina to do the same thing. “I plan to take this on the road.” He said. The effort to use law enforcement to intimidate voters is a newer maneuver which could hearken for stronger voter suppression measures to come. When CCD asked Chairman Raymond if he was receiving orders from anyone to close WSSU’s polling place or to possibly prosecute educators he said that it was all his idea. “No one told me to do this. It is just what I think needs to be done.” Raymond said.
“They want to really intimidate for sure.” stated Cash Michaels. “If your ideas are sound, then why do you have to rig the game?”
Ken Raymond has now told the Winston-Salem Journal that he will not be seeking to close WSSU down… yet. He has not returned CCD‘s calls regarding his inquiry about placing law enforcement at the polls. You can read more on that development and an over-view thus far HERE.