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Teach-in discusses the importance of campus voting

voting rights

Tuesday night's Voting Rights Teach-In offered attendees Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s and voter registration forms, along with a healthy dose of education about North Carolina voting rights.

About 70 people — students, professors and community members — attended the event, the second in a series of statewide events.

“We’re really hoping that students learn a lot about North Carolina’s new voter ID law and how it affects them in the primary election,” said John Steen, program coordinator for Scholars for North Carolina’s Future.

“We really want them to know exactly how to vote, where to vote on campus and to give a really good sense of what the broader impact of that law is for North Carolinians.”

Steen's organization co-sponsored the event with N.C. PIRG, the Campus Y, Ignite N.C., Faculty Forward and Democracy N.C.

Steen said a similar event at Duke University in fall 2015 was very successful — almost 100 people were in attendance, and it generated a follow-up campaign for an on-campus polling site.

Teach-ins at other North Carolina universities, including N.C. State University and Wake Forest University, are currently in the works.

“We’re really hoping to reach college students across the state,” Steen said.

Taylor Moss, campus organizer for N.C. PIRG, said recent changes to the UNC on-campus polling place have caused confusion for students.

“Because we don’t see the polling place on the way to class, the idea of voting can sometimes slip our minds,” Moss said.

Rachel Seidman, associate director for the Southern Oral History Project, said on-campus polling places made a difference in voting numbers at Duke.

With an on-campus polling place there, Seidman said 96 percent of registered students voted in the election, while during a year when the polling place had been moved off-campus, only 14 percent of students cast a ballot.

“The fact that these sites have been moved off-campus is not just an accident,” Seidman said.

Speakers at the event included students, professors and community members. The talks began with an overview of the history of voting in North Carolina, and continued into a discussion on the state’s new voter ID laws, passed this summer through House Bill 589, and other logistics of voting.

After a breakout session for voter registration, petition signing and a social media campaign, attendees were dismissed to enjoy free pizza and ice cream.

“I thought it went really well,” said junior Cara Schumann, an organizing fellow for Scholars for North Carolina’s Future. “I thought we had really good turnout, and people seemed engaged, and we got a lot of people to register to vote, which of course, is always the goal.”

Schumann said she’s passionate about voting rights.

“The more we exercise the right to vote, the more our voices get heard,” Schumann said.

Senior Palak Patel said she came to the teach-in because she was required to do so by one of her classes, but it ended up shifting her perspective.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Patel said. “I wish it was a lot better publicized — a lot of people I know would have enjoyed it. (The event) did open my eyes to voter ID laws. I didn’t know they were bringing it back — but the rest was pretty self-explanatory.”

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