Harris, Black women leaders urge young people, women to register and vote ahead of midterm elections

Vice President Kamala Harris and advocacy groups marked National Voter Registration Day by doing outreach to voters seen as crucial to November's midterm elections.

Vice President Kamala Harris commemorated National Voter Registration Day — Sept. 20, 2022 — on two HBCU campuses in South Carolina on Tuesday, urging Black college students to register and vote in November’s midterm election. 

“Your vote is your voice, and we need your voice. We need you to lead America forward,” Harris said during the fall convocation at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Harris also paid a visit to Claflin University, another Historically Black College and University that is separated from South Carolina State by only a fence in a city that is more than 70% Black.

As the nation’s first Black female vice president sought to energize young Black voters on Democratic issues that intersect race and gender — from voting rights to abortion — Black women leaders of advocacy organizations also marked National Voter Registration Day with campaigns geared toward mobilizing female voters (namely Black women voters) and young voters to exercise their civic duty ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 8.

Kamala Harris voter registration
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on Sept. 20, 2022 at South-Carolina State University highlighting the importance of National Voter Registration Day. She also lead a conversation with students about mental health and other issues important to young Americans with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in Orangeburg SC. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Higher Heights for America, which seeks to grow the political power of Black women, activated its years-long #BlackWomenVote campaign geared toward encouraging Black women to register to vote, to check their registration status if they believe they’re already registered and to encourage their family and friends to do the same.

“When we vote, we don’t just go to the polls. We bring our house, our block, our church, our sorority and our union, and that is what our #BlackWomenVote campaign seeks to do over the next [47] days,” Higher Heights President Glynda Carr told theGrio. 

Carr noted that Black women have historically led the way in voter mobilization in Black communities and said her organization is hoping to encourage other Black women to continue in that tradition. The spirit of civic engagement is personal for Carr, who recalled her mother taking her to get registered to vote on her 18th birthday. 

“I don’t remember what my parents gave me for my birthday gift, but I remember her putting me in her car driving me down to city hall and registering me to vote,” she recalled. “And on every Election Day as an adult, she called me and my brothers to ensure that we were planning to vote.”

Beyond encouraging students and young people to register to vote and participate in the electoral process, Harris noted in her remarks the “record high” number of young adults 18-24 who voted in the 2020 elections (51.4%). 

Kamala Harris voter registration
Students take a photo with Vice President Kamala Harris on Sept. 20, 2022 after she delivers remarks at South-Carolina State University highlighting the importance of National Voter Registration Day and other issues. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The vice president reminded students of the promises that the Biden-Harris administration has kept on issues important to young Black voters, including student debt forgiveness, increasing Pell Grants, more federal investments for HBCUs and addressing the climate crisis. However, she said there is more work to be done, particularly on voting rights, gun violence and women’s health, which has become a top-of-mind issue for Democrats following the controversial Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to an abortion. “To accomplish those goals, we need you,” she said.

Amanda Brown Lierman, executive director of the voting advocacy group, Supermajority, told theGrio that Harris’ direct outreach to young voters is critical. “Time and time again young people are overlooked in our political process because people don’t talk to them so they’re not welcomed in,” said Lierman. “There should be a party every time somebody turns 18.” 

“They should celebrate getting registered to vote in the same way that you commemorate your 21st birthday. It’s a big deal for folks to be able to have agency in our political process,” she added. “We’re talking about making voting a habit for people, and for young people in particular, and that work is so important.”

Supermajority marked Voter Registration Day with the launch of its new campaign in partnership with Argent, “Voting Suits You,” which implores women to both register and create a plan to vote on Nov. 8. 

Lierman said registering to vote remains a barrier for many Americans. “People don’t know how to do it, and they’re intimidated by the process … there’s so much crazy incorrect information out there,” she explained. 

Supermajority, she said, is working to bridge that knowledge gap by helping women “navigate the political process” by showing them how simple it is to register to vote if you know where to go. “It takes 30 seconds,” she noted.

Lierman said research shows that making a plan to register and vote increases the likelihood that you will follow through. “When you’re gonna wake up that morning, when you’re gonna go to the polls, who you’re gonna go with, where in fact you’re gonna put your “I Voted” sticker that you’re so proud to wear on your body — all of those things matter so much.”

Both Lierman and Carr said they believe the issues on the ballot that are most important to young voters and women voters will also motivate them to show up at the polls.

“They are taking that rage and the hope that we have for a better tomorrow for ourselves and for the people that we love all the way to the polls,” said Lierman.

Carr believes reproductive rights and voting rights, in particular, are on the ballot this November. “We are certainly living in some of the most politically toxic times of my generation,” she said. “The urgency of now is to hold the line and not see the erosion of the progress we’ve made on civil rights, women’s rights and reproductive rights over the last 57 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.”

Pro-abortion rights advocates outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. Abortion rights is a key agenda issue for National Voter Registration Day 2022, which was Sept. 20. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

In her closing remarks at South Carolina State, Harris told students that they will  “help to determine our nation’s future by excelling when required by marching, by advocating, by organizing, and by leading and by voting.”

“In our democracy, your vote is one of your most powerful tools for driving change. So, given that today is National Voter Registration Day, please make sure that you each are registered to vote,” she said. “Because there is an important election happening in [48] days, and so much of what we discussed here is on the line.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and Washington Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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