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Students rally in support of voting and making Election Day a UNC holiday

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Students hold signs at the Protest for Democacy Event on Friday Oct. 28, 2022.

“That's why we're out here today — because young people refuse to sit on the sidelines any longer as our democracy continues to fail.”

This was the rallying cry of organizer and UNC sophomore Sam Hiner at a rally on Friday, where students gathered in support of making Election Day a holiday at the University and marched to the polls. 

Hiner is the executive director of UNC’s chapter of the North Carolina Young People’s Alliance, a student voting advocacy group.

He said they gained the signatures of over 1,500 students and 100 professors in support of an election holiday, which they said would allow more than 3,000 additional students to vote. 

The issue had even been approved by the University Calendar Committee, which passed a calendar including the holiday to the chancellor’s office, Hiner said. 

“Someone from the chancellor's office did say to us that they had no objection to Democracy Day," Hiner said. "And if they got a calendar with a Democracy Day from the Calendar Committee, they would pass it.”

Hiner said his group later found out through public records that the chancellor’s office removed the holiday from the proposed draft of the academic calendar.

He spoke alongside N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Chatham, Orange), Durham County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Brenda Howerton and Orange County Democratic Party Chairperson Jonah Garson at the rally, which took place outside the Student Union. 

“If we can't show that students care about these issues through our signatures and through the actions that we advocate for to the administration, then we will come out here and protest. And that's why you see so many people out here today,” Hiner said at the rally. 

Foushee said she is focused on voting rights, which she feels are not protected because of North Carolina’s voter ID laws.

“I don't think it's necessary if a person is registered to vote,” she said. “We have a system in place that a person is verified when they get to the polling place, and if their name appears there, then they should have access to the ballot.”

She urged students to use their voices and applauded their efforts to fight for an Election Day holiday.

Stacked, a student-led political action committee that focuses on student mobilization and issue advocacy, was also represented at the rally. 

“By educating students on topics and policies that impact us, we hope to reach the table where those decisions are being made. And those decisions have never been more important, as we're staring down the barrel of an election that will surely have significant consequences,” Robert Kulasingam, a senior at UNC and a member of Stacked, said. 

They also urged students to vote and said that important issues like climate change, reproductive freedom and human rights were on the ballot this year.

Many students also volunteered at the rally. Among them was Cat Vaughan, a junior at UNC, who said she just wants UNC's administration to take the issue seriously. 

“It's been shown that places that have no classes on Election Day, their voter turnout actually goes up. So we would love to see that in a place like Orange County, that students can actually make a difference living here,” Vaughan said. 

Hiner echoed this sentiment and said he felt the University was overlooking students. 

“UNC would not exist if we weren’t here paying for tuition. And yet, they still won't pass the simplest policy changes to support students,” Hiner said. “It's absolutely ridiculous how underrepresented and overlooked young people are in our current society, and the only way we're going to change that is if young people start voting and voting as a bloc.”

Garson emphasized the importance of this issue at the rally.

“I'm going to share with you some sobering news, which is right now, turnout in this midterm election is below what it was in 2018. That's really bad. We are not seeing a wave,” Garson said.

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Garson issued a call to action for students to make sure that their friends and family had a plan to vote. 

“Do not take it for granted that your friends and the people closest and dearest to you are actually going to show up. We should never take it for granted,” Garson said. 

Elijah King, a community organizer from UNCG, closed out the rally by encouraging students to send letters and emails and to volunteer at the polls. 

”Many schools are adopting Democracy Day. So, UNC admin, the ball is in your court — and I hope you make the right decision,” King said.

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Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is the 2024 university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant editor and senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics.