UNC students can now vote on campus in the March primary elections thanks to a resolution passed by the Orange County Board of Elections last September. This resolution, which took effect on Jan. 1, merged precincts and created several others, including a UNC-only precinct.
The previous boundaries split the UNC campus into three precincts — Country Club, Greenwood and Mason Farm — and two pieces of the Lincoln and East Franklin precincts. The new UNC precinct encompasses this entire area and its voting location is the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.
Besides creating a UNC precinct, the board merged several other precincts in Chapel Hill. Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said these changes aim to optimize public resources and decrease voter confusion.
Because Orange County voters overwhelmingly vote early, she said the board decided to invest more resources in expanding early voting over Election Day voting. For example, she said that’s why they merged the East Franklin and Battle Park precincts.
“They were both pretty small precincts and with very low voter turnout,” Raper said. “Even at the peak Election Day, which was the March 2016 primary election, less than 400 people voted in both of those precincts.”
Orange County residents who vote on Election Day must go to their precinct’s specific voting location, which is determined by where they live. Early voting, however, is different: voters can cast their ballots in any designated early voting location in Orange County.
Raper said voters, especially UNC students, often confused the two and showed up at the wrong voting location.
“They presented to vote at the Country Club precinct,” she said. “Well, they don’t live in that precinct, so they’re told they can either vote a provisional ballot or go to another precinct. I feel like it frustrates voters and makes voting much less efficient.”
Nicholas Battaile, civic engagement committee co-chairperson for the Undergraduate Executive Branch, said he experienced this personally. As a first-year living on campus, he registered to vote in Orange County. In 2018, he was living in Teague Hall and went to vote in the local election.
“I showed up at the wrong one and had to go find the other one,” he said. “It was a big hassle. I can definitely understand how that served as a deterrent for people, and it certainly served as a barrier to participation.”
“A lot of students have been working toward this for a number of years,” he said.
Last year, several members of the UNC Young Democrats, including former President Alana Edwards and Vice President Thomas Ellis, attended the board's public forum about changing precinct boundaries to show support for the UNC precinct.
Rupi Jain, current president of UNC Young Democrats, said the new "super precinct" will make it easier for students to vote.
“The creation of the super precinct solves a lot of the frustration we as students and as an organization have faced at the polls," Jain said.
Battaile called the precinct a “great victory for student activism.”
“It’s going to make voting a lot more accessible to all students,” he said. “We think it’ll make it an easier process, and hopefully we’ll see an increase in voter participation at UNC."
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