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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Vote substance over spectacle this election


"I Voted" stickers sit on a table in First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Ever since I got my first taste of civic engagement in fourth grade student council elections, I’ve yearned for the day when I can proudly wear a red, white and blue “I Voted” sticker on my chest. 

While the sticker's elegant design is a bonus, this is not the only reason why I’m drawn to it. Ultimately, the “I Voted” sticker’s ubiquitous meaning makes it so prized in my eyes. It shows that the wearer is a responsible member of society, who understands the importance of their right to vote —  and is using that fundamental American right to incite change. In other words, the “I Voted” sticker is supposed to show that our democracy is alive and thriving. 

This is the narrative that I grew up with. It’s a hopeful narrative that is soundtracked by cawing eagles and the "The Star-Spangled Banner." But it’s also a narrative that I have become somewhat disillusioned with as I’ve grown older. 

A quick glance at any major newspaper’s front page can overwhelm the reader with political stories so absurd that they seem satirical. For example, in the summer of 2022, federal prosecutors found gold bars in the home of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), allegedly a result of corrupt dealings with Egyptian businessmen. It feels like only cartoon villains would stock up on gold bars in their crimes, but apparently, our senators do too. 

Even more recently, former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 20th) was ousted from his speakership just days after the House of Representatives narrowly avoided a complete government shutdown over a spending bill. The ousting was described by former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as being “part of a personal vendetta”.

The absurdity of politicians' conduct doesn't stop at the national and state levels; they also appear locally. On Oct. 3, mayoral candidate Adam Searing published a scathing newsletter titled "The Triangle Blog Blog Isn’t Real News. It’s Dark-Money Attack Politics."

In the newsletter, Searing threw out conspiracy theory-adjacent accusations (which have since been debunked) against the local blog. His vitriol was apparent from behind the keyboard. It’s disheartening to see candidates run a large part of their campaign on attacking local media instead of addressing Town issues. 

These theatrics point to a larger trend that defies party and state lines, wherein politicians are more consumed by workplace drama and big-budget donors than creating policies to serve their constituents. 

As a result, I’m already tired of the spectacle of politics, despite not having even been old enough to vote in the last election.

I'm not the only one who feels this way; disillusionment is a common sentiment among young voters. According to a 2023 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 31% of adults aged 18-29 said they have at least some confidence in the future of the U.S. political system, which is the lowest percentage out of all age groups. 

We’re also the age group who feels the most like our vote doesn’t matter for the country's future, despite being the inheritors of today’s policies. 

Yet, there is potential for us to shift the focus of politics from spectacle to substantive change. Especially at the local level of government, which has the most impact on our community's daily lives. 

UNC’s student population makes up a sizable constituency of Chapel Hill and has the potential to influence the tide in local elections through voting. 

For this reason, we cannot let sensational headlines and gossip overwhelm us, but rather invigorate us to advocate for change. Thinking critically about our political candidates' platforms and voting histories can help cut through the noise. 

With a clearer picture of what we're voting for, we can make more informed decisions that represent our interests.  

So I urge you to go out and vote in the Chapel Hill municipal elections on Nov. 7 and proudly wear that snazzy “I Voted” sticker on your chest. 

@dthopinion |

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