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The Daily Tar Heel

More Voters Head To Polls This Year

Twenty-six percent of Orange County's 77,224 registered voters participated in this year's election, a 10 percent increase since 1999, the last municipal election year.

In 1997, 22 percent of registered voters visited the polls. But 1999's voter turnout was the lowest of the decade -- only 16.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Carolyn Thomas, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, attributed the increase in voter turnout primarily to interest in a county bond referendum and nice weather on Election Day.

But some Orange County voters who participated in last week's election said they expected voter turnout to increase for other reasons.

Chapel Hill resident Dorothy Mayer said she thinks Chapel Hill residents have long had the attitude of "let somebody else vote as long as everything is going smoothly and the garbage is collected."

But Mayer added that the recent terrorist attacks might inspire people to be more civic-minded.

"Since September 11, people have become more conscious of the way our government runs," Mayer said. "They've become aware of the things they've taken for granted."

But many residents interviewed during Tuesday's election stressed the importance of participation in local government.

Dale Renguette, who works at the Newman Catholic Student Center, said he's been voting in Chapel Hill municipal elections for 30 years.

"(Voting) is not going to change the world," Renguette said. "But I think it can do something to change the town."

Joe Herzenberg, a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said he is "an addicted voter" and that he couldn't recall ever missing an election.

"(Voting) is what our country's all about," Herzenberg said.

But Herzenberg said that in many years of participating in local elections, he has been frustrated by a lack of student votes. He said that if every resident of Teague Residence Hall voted for one candidate, that candidate would probably win.

Shirley Ray, who helped man the voting booths at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, also said she had seen few students visiting the poll site.

"Mostly senior citizens (came and voted)," said "Students aren't as interested in this kind of election."

But George Jackson, an epidemiology graduate student, said he cast his ballot because he felt a responsibility to contribute to local government.

"It's an obligation for people in a democracy to vote," Jackson said.

Chapel Hill resident Jeannette Tolley volunteered to regulate voting at Fetzer Gym. Tolley, who has worked the poll site since 1974, also emphasized that residents have a responsibility to vote.

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"If people don't like the government, then they're responsible for it," Tolley said. "If you don't vote, you can't complain about what you get."

Most voters said that they considered the option to vote a privilege.

"I don't understand why people don't vote," said Betty Bell, a local artist.

"We're lucky to have a democracy where we get the chance."

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