Issues that matter to new voters in North Carolina

  • Kendra Vaughn, 22 (right) and Valena Vaughn, 50, residents of Burlington, N.C.  
When asked what issues are on her mind, Valena said: “I need some health care.”
  • Wake Forest University student Laura Diaz-Gonzalez, 19, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I want my vote to count for education in the Winston Salem area.”
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro student Damian Davis, 20, registered to vote on Oct. 8th in Greensboro, N.C.
“Prejudice. That’s the only thing that really bothers me.”
  • Wake Forest University student Geoff Groberg, 41, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“One of the big issues for me is health care.”
  • Wake Forest student Shawn Flynn, 18, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I just became a college student so issues with student debt [are important], I want to make that as easy to pay off as possible when I graduate.”
  • Clester Massey, a 57-year-old resident of Burlington N.C., registered to vote on Oct. 8th. 
“I don’t have my mind made up. I want to vote for Obama again, that’s what I want.”
  • Wake Forest University student Taylor Haberle, 18, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I think the midterms are a great way to impact the legislative branch. There’s a lot of important elections happening right now in the Senate in North Carolina and I think the Senate race is going to be really interesting to watch to see if the Republicans get a majority or not.”
  • Dr. Rebecca Muich, a 31 year-old professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, registered to vote on Oct. 8th in Greensboro, N.C. 
“The issue that most concerns me this election cycle is education.”
  • Felicity Ratway a 19-year-old student at Wake Forest University registered to vote on Oct. 8th  in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Gay marriage is very important to me, I am queer and especially with the recent [court decisions], it seems like there’s a lot of momentum building, so that’s exciting to me.”
  • Rev. Dray Bland, a 30 year old pastor at First Baptist on Apple St. in Burlington, N.C. updated his voter registration on Oct. 8th.
“Issues that are important to us are education … many education cuts here in North Carolina. Also disenfranchisement of voting for many in my community with laws that keep people away from the polls rather than bringing them to the polls.”
  • Valeria Torres, an 18-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, registered to vote on Oct. 8th in Greensboro, N.C.
“I’ve been trying to keep up with the political world. I’ve been mainly focused on following the gay rights movement.”
  • Tawana Keene (right), 35 and Antoine Crisp (center), 36, residents of Burlington N.C., registered to vote on Oct. 8th.
Crisp said: “I have issues with the law itself. They should be out here fighting to get rapists, drug dealers and everything off the street, not pulling suspicious people that’s actually out here just driving trying to get from one place to another.”
  • Joey Swanson, a 19-year-old student at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the campus in Greensboro, N.C. 
“I’m admittedly a bit out of the loop politically right now. It’s important to me to keep the environment healthy and I know where I stand on social issues, I can support candidates who are pro-gay marriage or a more progressive health care system and that’s mostly what I look for.”
  • Collin Nesbitt, an 18-year-old student at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, registered to vote on Oct. 8th on the campus in Greensboro, N.C. 
“A topic that I’m really focused on that interests me is that there’s not enough equality in society”

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Most people think of voter registration as something everyone supports. After all, voting is the ultimate gesture of democratic citizenship. And if you want to vote, you first have to register.

But lately it’s become politically contested. In several southern states, Republicans have imposed rules meant to make registration more difficult. A Georgia group working to register African-Americans was recently the target of a politically motivated investigation by state election officials. In North Carolina, which hosts a tight Senate race this fall, even a conservative group, Turning Point USA, was recently blocked from registering voters on campus, in an episode that was captured on video.

In that context, registering to vote isn’t just a step toward participating. It’s a political act in itself. Photographer Mike Belleme spent time with organizers from Turning Point USA and the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP to capture the reactions of newly-registered Tarheel State voters, and discuss the issues that matter to them.

 Mike Belleme is an editorial, documentary and portrait photographer based in Asheville, N.C.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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