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New NC law bolsters youth vote through preregistration

More than 60,000 young voters will be eligible to vote for the first time in this fall’s election — thanks to an N.C. law that requires voter registration drives at high schools in the state.

The law mandates that the state board of elections holds voter registration drives at public high schools statewide to enable 16 and 17 year olds to preregister.

Since the law was implemented in January 2010, 107,422 in that age group have registered to vote in the state through August 2012, and 63,085 of them are eligible to cast their ballots this fall.

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy N.C., a nonpartisan electoral reform organization based in Durham, said legislators intended for the law, which passed with bipartisan support, to reverse a history of low voter participation and develop lifelong voting habits.

Hall said Democracy N.C. was the “chief advocate” for the legislation by gaining endorsements, researching legislation in other states and lobbying for its passage. He said the drives have been a success and have positively affected students.

“Many students find it empowering to vote. It also makes real the classroom discussion of citizenship,” Hall said.

North Carolina is the only state that requires election officials to hold annual registration drives at high schools, even though five other states also allow students to preregister as young as 16.

According to a Democracy N.C. analysis, the breakdown of which party students register with is about even.

Thirty percent have registered with the Republican Party, 29 percent with the Democrat Party, 1 percent with the Libertarian Party and 40 percent as unaffiliated.

Not all students take advantage of the early registration opportunity.

UNC sophomore Reyad Oueijan, from Wake County, chose not to register in high school.

“I was pretty apathetic about it,” Oueijan said. “I didn’t really want to give out any kind of information about myself.”

But sophomore Sarah Swanson, from Mecklenburg County, is glad she decided to take advantage of the voter drives.

“I honestly didn’t know where I could have registered,” she said. “This was just an easy way for me to go ahead and register.”

Swanson said she did not bother changing her registration to Orange County because she knew early voting began during Fall Break so she could vote in her home county.

Oueijan said it is important for young people to get out and vote, especially in a battleground state like North Carolina.

“We have to live with whoever gets elected for the next four years,” he said. “In four years we’ll be entering the job market, so our voice is definitely the most important.”

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