The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 18th

Activists Inform, Encourage Voters

Across the nation many college students allow themselves to be dismissed by politicians as apathetic, ignorant and uninterested.

But not at UNC.

The visual bombardment of signs around Chapel Hill, the registration drives in the Pit and the door-to-door canvassing on campus are evidence of the effort many UNC student groups have dedicated to the elections throughout the fall - and campus activists don't feel it has gone to waste.

Liz Gardner, vice president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, said groups' efforts have made a difference in how students view the elections. "Students in general see (voting) as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's helpful that a lot of important issues are on the ballot," she said, citing the $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum as one such issue.

Lori Van Orden, vice president of the Residence Hall Association, said that while college students are typically viewed as apathetic, the liberal and intellectual atmosphere at UNC has eroded such stereotypes. "I think (college) students are apathetic because they don't know how to vote, or where to vote," she said.

Van Orden said one method that has helped fight voter apathy is student organizations' willingness to work together. "There has been such a collaborative effort to get the word out, and it has really worked. A lot more students are aware about the elections and the issues."

Political science Professor Pamela Conover said national research perpetuates the idea of collegiate apathy. "Statistics show younger voters do vote at lower rates," she said. "Whatever can be done to improve that fact is obviously helpful."

RHA tried to stir feelings of civic duty through friendly rivalry, holding a twofold voter registration competition, pitting UNC against N.C. State University and residence halls against each other. "I think the publicity was really out this year, and it got people excited," Van Orden said.

Some organizations chose a narrower focus, rather than trying to contact a large number of students like RHA.

Ann Collier, co-chairwoman of Students for Education Equality, said her group took an aggressive approach, challenging its Campus Y members to a 100 percent voter registration rate within its own ranks.

Other efforts to combat apathy began well before Election Day. Queer Network for Change Co-chairwoman Sarah Levin-Richardson said her organization brought registration materials to Freshman Camp, held the week before the fall semester's start.

But student efforts have intensified during the past few weeks, as group leaders worked to spur last-minute voter education and interest.

Matt Tepper, director of voter registration and outreach for UNC Young Democrats, said activism on campus has rallied student interest more than on other college campuses. "It's really easy for campuses to be isolated from the rest of the news," he said. "All (UNC) groups have really got everyone knowing what's going on and excited."

Tepper said there is a cycle of younger people not voting and consequently not having the candidates address issues concerning youths. "Politicians aren't going to talk to us because we don't vote. By getting out and voting, we can change that."

Tepper cited the voter turnout at the Morehead Planetarium No Excuse Voting site as evidence that UNC students have been motivated and are utilizing the energy and information given to them by campus groups. "There really hasn't been much apathy this year," he said. "It was so amazing."

But some activists said they wished students had become more involved. "People weren't as enthusiastic as we would have liked them to have been," Black Student Movement President Tyra Moore said. "But overall people were pretty responsive about elections."

Erica Smiley of the Progressive Student Coalition said that while the coalition has informed student voters, it might also have made progressive students feel a suitable candidate did not exist. "People have been definitely enthusiastic, but among progressive students, it's somewhat created a `I just won't vote at all' mentality," she said. "Despite everyone talking about it and getting civically involved, people are getting frustrated."

But Smiley said she does not perceive apathy as a problem on campus. "I don't think we'll have much trouble getting students out to vote."

With Election Day at hand, many student organizations' goal is to have as many students vote as possible.

Moore summarized the underlying belief that has driven some student organizations to work so diligently at combating student voter apathy. "This is your opportunity to make a change."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.


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