Were ECSU Students Pressured to Vote by University Staff?

This story has been all but dismissed by the mainstream press.  Every article I have read contains a couple of paragraphs saying that the Pasquotank Board of Elections met to hear a complaint about Elizabeth City State University students being pressured to vote.  The  articles included a link to the Daily Advance article, but The Daily Advance online version requires a subscription.

ECSU has had its voting and voter registration problems before.  According to the most recent article, Elizabeth City Fourth Ward Councilwoman “Lena Hill-Lawrence said the allegations appear to validate concerns she has raised about ECSU students being told whom to vote for by off-campus groups.”

This particular incident is a good example of how Same-Day Registration (SDR) is open to misuse and abuse – its very existence invites fraud.  In this case the students are not to blame, they were clearly unaware of the requirements to vote and when the law was explained to them they decided not to vote.  According to this report, they were pressured again, this time in the parking lot, to go ahead and register and vote.

This is a transcribed version of the article emailed to me by a Daily Advance subscriber.

By Reggie Ponder – The Daily Advance – Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pasquotank Board of Elections heard allegations Monday that an Elizabeth City State University staff member pressured students to register and vote in today’s Elizabeth City municipal election.

The board took no action other than to hear a report on the incident and explain that the students — or anyone who feels they have been subjected to coercion in voting — have the right to file a complaint with the State Board of Elections.

Elections Director Linda Page said the incident apparently involved an ECSU student who had expressed some ambivalence during one-stop voting about whether to vote in Elizabeth City or in their permanent home county. The student allegedly returned to the parking lot without voting but then was instructed by an ECSU staff member to return to the elections office and vote.

Page said she did not witness the alleged incident. It was reported to her by another elections official who did witness it, she said.

“I wasn’t out there at the time it happened,” Page said.

During an election board meeting Monday afternoon, Deputy Elections Director Bonnie Godfrey described the incident in some detail.

Godfrey said that between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Friday, a group of young women who are ECSU students came in to the elections office to register and vote. She said that when they began to put their out-of-town addresses on the registration form, she explained they needed to use their campus address and school ID if they wanted to vote in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank elections.

Godfrey said the young women decided not to vote in Tuesday’s election. She said one of the students was met in the parking lot by a woman who threw her arms in the air and yelled “get in there and vote.”

When the students returned to the office, Godfrey said she asked them who the woman in the parking lot was. They told her they were cheerleaders and that the woman was “a coach,” Godfrey said. Godfrey said the students then filled out registration forms.

Lonnie Walton, an ECSU employee who had been in the car in the parking lot, then came inside the Board of Elections. When Godfrey asked him to leave the voting enclosure, she said he asked her for her name and then left.

Godfrey said that later, Mayor Roger McLean’s re-election campaign treasurer, Bert Birdsall, told her he had heard that she had advised students they had a choice about where to vote. She said she told Birdsall that that was correct.

Godfrey said she heard some students say a criminal justice teacher had advised students that they would receive a “100” if they voted. Other students commented that it was “mandatory” that they vote, she said.

Pasquotank Board of Elections Chairman Michele Aydlett explained that the board is not the “elections police” and can’t control what other people are doing.
Board member Betsy Meads agreed and said the only thing the board could do is make Godfrey’s report part of the record. She said it’s important to protect everyone’s personal liberties and she believes “some personal liberties were trounced upon Friday.”

“You have a perfect right not to cast a vote,” Meads said.

It’s important to educate students about voting options “and not force them to do something that they don’t want to do,” Meads said.

Elections board member William Skinner said the students Friday morning did have a choice, since according to Godfrey’s account two of them decided not to vote.
Meads said her concern was that teachers and coaches exert a great deal of influence over students. She said she wants students to know they have avenues if they face any consequences for not voting.

Aydlett said she, too, knows coaches have a lot of influence over students.

“Our office is following the letter of the law,” Aydlett said. “That’s the bottom line. We want fair and equal elections.”

Jackie Latson, a citizen who attended Monday’s meeting, said she believes it is up to ECSU Chancellor Willie Gilchrist to ensure university staff are following correct electioneering procedures.

Aydlett said she believes Gilchrist has been very conscientious about election rules.

Page said the elections board already had a meeting scheduled Monday to review absentee ballots. Elections officials decided to hear the allegations about coerced voting during the meeting, she said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Lena Hill-Lawrence attended the election board’s meeting Monday.

Hill-Lawrence said the allegations appear to validate concerns she has raised about ECSU students being told whom to vote for by off-campus groups.

“That was my concern,” she said in an interview Monday afternoon. “That’s the tragic part of all this. That’s the part I think is just wrong.”

Hill-Lawrence said pressure on ECSU students needs to end.

“My thing is it just needs to stop,” she said. “If it’s wrong it just needs to stop. This is a moral and ethical issue and we have to treat it morally and ethically.”
Meads said the students themselves have done nothing wrong.

“The students were the ones who were wronged here,” Meads said.

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