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A nonpartisan 'Party at the Polls' seeks to encourage the student vote

Early voting for the Chapel Hill local election is available on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Chapel of the Cross on E. Franklin St.

Young people are notoriously low-turnout voters. 

Only 36 percent of eligible young voters cast a ballot in 2018. This year, a group of UNC students is trying to change that by registering, educating and encouraging young citizens to vote.

Party at the Polls is a nonpartisan event that aims to get students to vote in Chapel Hill’s elections. It will take place on Nov. 5 in the Pit and will be hosted by the University’s chapter of North Carolina Public Interest Research Group — commonly known as NCPIRG — with the help of UNC Young Independents and March For Our Lives UNC.

“Ideally, everyone who is registered to vote on UNC’s campus comes out,” Gabriel Fields, campus organizer for UNC's chapter of NCPIRG and an alumnus of the University, said.

He said there will be games, live music and food for attendees.

This year marks the second year in a row that NCPIRG has put on an event of this kind. Public research interest groups across the nation have put on similar events. 

“What keeps people from voting is the opportunity cost that comes with it — like, 'I’m missing class,' or 'I’m missing something else,'” Fields said. “We’re trying to eliminate that and make it more enjoyable and more of a social experience."

Caitlyn Sigafose, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and campaign coordinator for the New Voters Project for NCPIRG, said the atmosphere of the party will encourage students to vote.

“The party is meant to help instigate students to vote,” Sigafose said. “When people see other people voting, or have a particular time designated to vote, they are more likely to make it to the polls.”

Fields pointed out that as a nonpartisan group, NCPIRG doesn’t encourage students to vote for anyone specifically.

“It’s not about electing particular leaders,” Fields said. “It’s about the young people electing leaders that actually stand for what their interests are and provide for them along the battle lines of those interests.”

Fields said voting in the United States allows everyone a seat at the table and that young voters simply haven’t sat down to take part.

“Once you’re past the age of 18, you can register to vote, you can vote in an election, your voice can be heard — but young people, the youth vote, the student vote, hasn’t really pulled its chair out,” Fields said. “That’s what we’re trying to help do. We’re just trying to help pull the chair out so that they can join the conversation and their voices can be heard.”

Ali Montavon, a junior biology and linguistics major and co-president of UNC Young Independents, said it's important for UNC students to vote because the decisions made for the town of Chapel Hill affect students. 

Early voting began Oct. 16 for the open seats in Chapel Hill, including positions like town council, school board and mayor.

"I think it’s really important that people come out," Montavon said. “They have a little fun, they get to vote, they get non-biased information on the candidates. Overall, we’ve had a lot of success with it.”

The event was originally scheduled to take place on Oct. 30 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. but has been rescheduled to Nov. 5 due to weather. A smaller event will take its place on Oct. 30 with volunteers from NCPIRG set up at Chapel of the Cross in an attempt to reach voters.

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