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Monday December 6th

Student voter turnout is low, but a lot is happening behind the scenes to change that

<p>A handful of students — including first-years Becca Brandes, Molly Cartwright and Helen Hill — spelled it out for their peers in front of Polk Place.</p>
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A handful of students — including first-years Becca Brandes, Molly Cartwright and Helen Hill — spelled it out for their peers in front of Polk Place.

As election season rages on, local organizations are looking to get students registered and ready to vote. 

Although college campuses are often seen as grounds for political activism, student voter turnout has been consistently low. According to a 2017 report by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education of Tufts University, there has been a 3 percent increase in students that voted between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. The current college voter turnout stands at 48.3 percent.

UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Asheville tied for the highest rate of student voter turnout in North Carolina for the 2016 presidential election at 69 percent.

Improving voter turnout has been a catalyst for organizations to take action. By getting students ready to vote — many of whom are voting for the first time — groups and organizations are hoping to familiarize students with the voting process.

Nancy Thomas, the director of the IDHE, said inconvenience and lack of ease are the factors inhibiting student voting.

“The reasons why people don’t vote can be very complicated," Thomas said. "It might be a matter of inconvenience, and there are some states in this country that make voting very easy for their citizens and others that do not. They need certain identification in order to vote. They have a legal right to vote in their place of domicile and yet that can be inhibited by overly restrictive requirements having to do with identification and so forth.”

Thomas said being an out-of-state student can be a deterrent from voting and provides further inconveniences and forms they must fill out. 

Other students, Thomas said, feel their vote will not have an influence.

"They may be very busy," Thomas said. "They may feel they aren’t informed enough. They may feel their vote doesn’t count.”

Additionally, Thomas said that some choose not to partake in the process altogether.

"The number of students who are not into it is declining significantly. At this point, I would point to ease of voting and campus climate as the more important factors,” Thomas said.

While organizations can push to get more college students out to vote, the responsibility also falls on students themselves. Zaneeta Daver, the director of ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, said it's necessary that students feel inspired to vote.

“People need to understand how important their voice is in the political process, and they have to participate," Daver said.

UNC is one of the many colleges ALL IN Democracy is working with. The organization promotes education on matters regarding voting as well as assistance with the registration and voting process. Through its specific targets — registration, education and get-out-the-vote efforts — the organization's mission is to ultimately increase the number of votes cast by UNC students on and off campus.

While there are barriers to voting, eliminating them will not fix the low voter turnout among college students, Daver said. She said it comes down to a lack of motivation.

"It's very complicated and very tricky, and if you don't follow all the procedures or if you find that overwhelming, you're going to decide, 'You know what, this isn't worth my time and my energy and I'm not going to walk myself through this whole process,'" Daver said.


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