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'Extremely bad': UNC Board of Elections working to address low voter turnout

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In last year’s student body elections, 14.43 percent of students cast a vote. This spring, that number was nearly halved.

Out of the 31,778 eligible voters in this spring’s UNC student body general elections, 2,293 students voted, for an overall turnout of 7.22 percent. The number of individuals who voted in the race for student body president was slightly lower, with 2,224 votes cast. 

The election for Graduate and Professional Student Government president had a turnout of 3.64 percent — Katie Heath won with 240 votes out of 11,277 eligible voters.

“Turnout was extremely bad,” Sophie van Duin, acting chair of the UNC Board of Elections, said. “It was pretty disheartening to see it dropped by such a significant margin. We’ve been trying to figure out what might have caused this, because on the publicity side we really put in more work than ever.”

Van Duin said the UNC BOE hung flyers, stationed members at tables in the Pit for early voting, and posted on their social media page frequently in order to advertise the Feb. 14 election.

Undergraduate Senator Samuel Hendrix said the UNC BOE Instagram account, which has 75 followers as of Feb. 22, produces videos and infographics about student elections that he wishes more people could have seen.  

Part of the reason voter turnout was significantly lower, van Duin said, might have been because the election fell on Valentine’s Day.

“One of my friends suggested that it was possible that everyone's feeds were so drowned out with couples, and the election stuff kind of got lost in the mix,” van Duin said

Hendrix said he thinks a lack of awareness from students might be to blame for the low voter turnout. If no one is informing students about elections, it is unlikely they will seek it out for themselves, he said.

“I think most people don't care, and I think the ones that do care don't know about it,” Hendrix said

Van Duin said not having a full team on the UNC BOE and having a member join mid-election season may have limited their ability to focus on social media and that in the future she would like to have one person on the board tasked with managing social media accounts.

To increase voter turnout in the future, the UNC BOE is working on creating a comprehensive document that will help “preserve institutional knowledge” and better inform new members of their team. Van Duin said they are also asking the graduate and undergraduate senates and the Joint Governance Council to ensure all of the BOE seats are filled.

“We are a six-person team, which is already pretty small, but most of the time those seats aren't even filled,” she said. “So we're asking them to be more proactive about that.”

Darcy Tyndall, a UNC sophomore who did not vote in the election, said it was because she was unaware of the election that she did not vote. She said if professors mention upcoming student body elections in class, it could increase turnout.

“Had I known, I would have definitely done it and found a way to do it, but I didn't even know that it was going on,” she said.

Hendrix said one thing he thinks student government can do to increase turnout is for students to understand the importance of voting. He said currently students may not realize the extent of what the student government does. Beyond campus engagement and policies, elected officials can go on to serve on committees that help to choose appointed officials.

He pointed to current SBP Christopher Everett who is a member of the UNC Board of Trustees and the Chancellor Search Committee — which will have a say in who the next chancellor will be.

“What is so important about people knowing who they're electing, is understanding that those people have a direct impact on our student body and on our faculty,” Hendrix said.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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