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To help students vote, UNC groups pivot from Pit-sitting to Zoom parties

Voter registration forms at a table on Franklin Street on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.
Buy Photos Voter registration forms at a table on Franklin Street on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

With Election Day less than two months away, student groups at UNC are adjusting their strategies to help students vote during a remote semester. 

In a normal year, groups would be holding in-person events, like on-campus voter registration in the Pit. But with classes moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the work has turned virtual — with social media being one of the main ways to distribute information. 

Getting the word out virtually 

“We are creating infographics and reaching out to people to make sure that they know we are a resource for them in case they do need anything," Rupanil Jain, the president of UNC Young Democrats, said. 

She said UNC Young Democrats is also reaching out to graduate students and faculty to make sure their students know how to vote and what resources are available. 

UNC's Young Independents and College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment for this story. 

Nicholas Batman, the director of the Civic Engagement Action Coalition of the UNC Institute of Politics, said his group is using a similar strategy. 

“We made a presentation about 10 slides that includes very clear, succinct and concise information about how to register to vote, how to request an absentee ballot and how to vote safely and early in person,” Batman said. 

Batman said the group sends the presentation to professors and departments daily, to try to get them to share the slides with their students. 

'Ready to go'

Jain said UNC Young Democrats was prepared for a virtual semester, but did not expect students to be sent home so soon. The group was originally planning to distribute around 6,000 voter registration packets to all on-campus students as a resource.  

Each packet includes a voter registration form, an absentee ballot request form and a fact sheet with detailed information about voting locations and early voting times. 

When most students moved off-campus, the group had to change course. 

“Now, we have sort of shifted our strategy and are targeting off-campus apartments and residences where students are living in Orange County,” Jain said. 

To make the registration information more accessible to students, Batman said the Civic Engagement Action Coalition made a text inbox. Students can text “VOTEUNC” to 56525 to receive a link that will directly take them to the portal to register to vote, to request an absentee ballot or receive more information about voting.  

Engaging students 

The Civic Engagement Action Coalition created online Zoom events called "voter couch parties" to motivate students to vote, Batman said. These events consist of participants going through their contact lists to ensure everyone — from friends to people they barely know — is registered to vote. 

“Basically, we're just trying to do this relational voter work to make sure that everyone that we know in our circle is ready to go," he said. 

Batman said the group has already done seven voter couch parties in the past few weeks and spoken to about 3,000 people. The group is planning a couch party with more than 25 different colleges before North Carolina's registration deadline on Oct. 9, he said.  

Besides UNC Young Democrats and the Civic Engagement Action Coalition, other student organizations are also using their platforms to encourage voting. 

Coulture, a student-run fashion and lifestyle magazine, is doing a “What I'm Voting For” series to engage its readers.  

“We really started it over the summer because we recognize that we're a lifestyle fashion magazine. And we write about culture, and part of that culture includes politics,” Editor-in-Chief Sterling Sidebottom said.  

She said the main goal for the series is to get people involved in politics and encourage them to vote. 

“The overarching theme is to get people to get out there and actually vote," she said. "Vote for someone who is going to make the United States a better place."

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