For many, the 2020 election carries a special urgency.
It’s a reality that has Qwameek Bethea ’21 doing his part to get out the vote among Furman students, who voted at a rate of only 30% in the last general election. He hopes it jumps to 70%.
“I know that’s a big number, but considering everything that’s going on, we have too many reasons to vote and no reason not to,” he says.
“Everybody is personally affected in some way by this election. That’s what’s really driving students to vote.”
Bethea’s first goal as president of Furman’s NAACP chapter is to set a good example for his fellow members. Two weeks ago, he drove 215 miles to his hometown of Hamer, South Carolina, to cast his vote. He says he is hearing how some students will be driving farther distances or even flying home to vote because they didn’t receive their absentee ballots. “That’s a whole other kind of dedication,” says Bethea.
In recent weeks, his focus has centered on educating members about how to register to vote, how the electoral college system works, making sure students have a plan in place for voting, and working with other groups on campus like Dins Vote and initiatives like Paladin Pledge.
“I definitely support the Paladin Pledge and what it stands for,” says Bethea.
Pledge organizer Erica Daly ’22, a politics and international affairs major, explains the Paladin Pledge as an offshoot of Dins Vote, which aims to increase voter turnout on campus. For the pledge, students simply commit to vote in this election via a Google doc.
To encourage participation in the election, students have the option to share why they are voting and to be entered into a class competition and a Greek Life Competition. Competition rankings, updates, and reasons for voting are posted on Instagram @paladinspledge.
Oct. 29, professors of politics and international affairs Glen Halva-Neubauer and Teresa Cosby led a CLP called “Voter Suppression in America.” It was co-sponsored by diverse groups, including to the Furman NAACP, Furman Justice Forum, Furman Conservative Society, Furman Mock Trial, Student Diversity Council, Furman Pre-Law Society and Student League for Black Culture.
“Voter suppression is real,” says Bethea, who helped facilitate the event.
He describes the removal of high-throughput mail-sorting machines in selected post offices, the lack of accessible ballot drop-off boxes in Texas, the long lines and wait times at early polling locations, and places where armed “poll watchers” have been recruited for Election Day.
“We really just want people to understand the seriousness of what is going on and let them know (voter suppression) is a real, valid concern that we should be having,” Bethea says.
The Greenville chapter of NAACP is also doing its part to make the voting experience safe and more manageable.
Lillian Brock Flemming ’71, ’75 (M) and ’14 (H), a member of the Greenville City Council and a lifetime member of the NAACP, says the Greenville Branch was selected by the national and state NAACP offices to participate in the Protect Our Voters at the Poll Monitoring Program.
Flemming says the program has enlisted “people of good conscience” – not all of them NAACP members – who want to protect and help voters during early voting and on Election Day.
“Our lines are extremely long, and it takes hours sometimes to vote,” she says. “People are exhausted … some of us have actually stood in place for voters while they go to the bathroom.”
Whether distributing water and snacks or standing in line for voters who need relief from the extended wait times, Flemming says the public is grateful for the support while they exercise their civic duty.
“It matters that somebody cares about them,” she adds. “That’s the point – protecting the people at the poll.”
For Student Government Association President Griffin Mills ’21, casting a ballot is an act toward shaping the future.
“I am voting not only for the present but for the future of our country,” says the sustainability sciences major and poverty studies minor. “It’s our duty as citizens to vote, and I hope my generation is able to rise to the challenge this election year.”
And it’s at the polls where the decision becomes deeply personal.
“As an African American, and with voter suppression, realizing what our people have gone through to earn the right to vote, that makes me more compelled to go do it,” says Bethea. “To have so many different things on the line, I feel like this is why we have this right, and it’s important that we make our voices heard.”