With elections and early voting underway, professors and student activists are trying to find ways to make resources more easily available to students as they navigate the voting process.
Rebecca Kreitzer, an associate professor of public policy at UNC, believes that many students are interested in politics but can face challenges when it comes to voting.
“Young people are interested in politics, but they don’t always vote. And so I’m very interested in the differences between who votes and who doesn’t vote, and why some people vote and other people don’t vote,” she said.
Kreitzer's research has pointed to both the effects of political socialization and knowledge of the voting process as being important factors into whether or not a student votes. To help engage both first-time voters and those who have questions, she and Whitney Manzo, an associate professor of political science at Meredith College, created a website to help provide information in an easily accessible, direct way.
Their website takes people through a list of questions to help learn important details such as their polling places, sample ballot and registration status. It can also help answer questions they have about Election Day, such as how to find out if their vote was counted. Manzo said she hopes this resource will increase voter turnout both now and in future elections.
“We wanted to create a simple space where basic questions could be answered and guides to more information could be offered, to help people build their voting and election vocabulary," Manzo said in an email statement. "Political science research shows that once someone has voted even one time, they are more likely to vote in the future.
She said that if the group can encourage just one person to go vote, they can help increase voter turnout in the present and the future.
UNC first-year Martha Plaehn is the phone banking coordinator and secretary for the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project. She is a passionate advocate for student voting and first became interested in voting due to her parents’ encouragement — on her 18th birthday, they gave her a voter registration form as a gift.
“I firmly believe that we're voting for our future. It's like we're using our voice to vote, and then our voice to have power in our government," Plaehn said. "And then the second thing that's probably more the reason why I vote is, I really think voting is a privilege."
Students will not just be voting in Chapel Hill this election, as some students who are registered in their home county or state will be voting by absentee ballot. This can raise complications, ranging from meeting deadlines to finding stamps to use to mail the ballots.
Gerry Cohen, an adjunct instructor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a member of the Wake County Board of Elections, said he worries that these kinds of difficulties will hinder students from getting their votes in on time. But for students living on campus, he said registering in Chapel Hill is relatively simple.
“One of the most important things, if you’re a student on campus, is if you’re not registered yet, you can register by going to early voting and register on-site," he said. "And all you need to show is your OneCard. Because that shows, they can look up your residence from that."
This applies to any student living in any on-campus residence hall, including Granville Towers.
For more information, students can visit Kreitzer and Manzo's website for a guide on voting or the Orange County website for more information on early voting. The early voting polling location closest to campus is the Chapel of the Cross at 304 E. Franklin Street.
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