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Young voters aren't participating in Orange County. Here's what we know.

Several student volunteers work a table in the Pit to assist others in registering to vote on Oct. 1, 2019.

While Orange County is heavily populated by young people, its elections don't often see those young people voting.

According to unofficial data from the Orange County Board of Elections, only 78 voters age 18-25 have voted as of Wednesday.

Gerry Cohen, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member and member of the Wake County Board of Elections, said he hasn't noticed much fluctuation in the pattern of young people voting over the last few elections. 

“Students tend to not turn out in heavy numbers in municipal elections because they don’t see a connection in community elections,” he said.

He said he thinks this might be because municipal elections don't have as much promotion as presidential elections, which have televised debates.

Cohen said when a student is running and when the campaigns are more focused on students, the student turnout can be higher.

“The older students get and the more time they spend in Chapel Hill, the more likely they are to register to vote and to actually vote," Cohen said. "More professional students seem to register than undergrad."

He said students may be more likely to vote if they have more information about the election and how to actually register.

First-year Kacy Cole said she is looking forward to voting in this year's municipal elections. 

“I hadn’t really heard anything about how to register to vote in Orange County, so I missed the deadline for registration. However, I found out that I can register and vote during the one-stop, which I will be doing,” Cole said. “I was a little unsure if I wanted to change my registration for voting, but I want to have a voice in the community I now reside in because this is where I will be furthering my education for the next four years.”

She said she cares a lot about how transportation is free for students in town, and she knows the town council would make sure it stays that way.

Cohen said he believes students have different interests in the community than adults do, do so it's important for students to have a voice and to vote.

“I voted here because there was more of a choice, while back home, there wasn’t,” said first-year Karen Cabrera.

Gabriel Fields, a campus organizer with NCPIRG, said the group has registered more than 300 students to vote in Chapel Hill for this election. He said the group aims to promote registering to vote and increasing the amount of voters.

“It’s really interesting because the municipal elections coming up in November typically have a lower turnout,” Fields said.

Just under 50 percent of people ages 18 to 24 were registered to vote for the November 2018 election, but 33 percent actually voted. 

“We work to not only get students registered to vote, but to remove barriers keeping students from voting like getting polling places that are more acceptable,” Fields said. “What makes students not want to vote is the feeling of helplessness."

Fields said he believes the biggest issue of local elections is the low engagement in the local community. Candidates have platforms they are passionate about, but the community doesn’t really know what they are, he said.

“It’s not their fault, it’s just that local elections are harder to keep track of in terms of candidates and their platforms compared to presidential elections, where there are televised debates and are always mentioned in the news,” Fields said.

He said if everyone has the right to vote, NCPIRG is just pulling the chair up for students.

“Democracy works at its best when everyone is involved,” Fields said.

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