Excuses excuses

Guest Post by Ginny Franks

"Voting is perhaps the most important duty we have as citizens of the United States. But it also is important to remember to vote for the area that we are shaping as students at this University. We are a part of this community, whether we're from Wilmington or Boone.

So register to vote.

It doesn't matter for whom or what you vote. Just do it. It's as simple as that."

– Emma Burgin, Daily Tar Heel columnist and former City Editor

If the State Board of Elections records are right (Disclaimer: they aren't always!), then Emma Burgin didn't vote.

For those of you who were surprised by the abysmal student turnout in municipal elections this year, all it takes is an internet connection and a computer to figure out why. Push aside the rhetoric of "students are our future", "this is our community" and "voting is perhaps the most important duty we have as citizens" spouted from the mouths (and emails) of our student leaders, and we wind up with nothing but the hypocritical repeat of the Paris Hilton "Vote or Die" incident, with Paris Hilton sporting the t-shirt but not the "I Voted" sticker. Or even bothering to register.

Telling people to vote is about as trendy as Emilio Pucci scarves and the Lacoste polos we're sporting, but apparently actually following through and, say, voting is a fashion faux pas for student leaders at UNC.

Again, according to the SBOE records (which I've been assured the busy news elves that make the DTH happen are hard at work verifying), the same people who repeatedly told students to vote didn't vote.

Seth Dearmin voted, but his Student Body Secretary, Neepa Mehta, and Student Body Treasurer, Daneen Furr, didn't. Neither did his "Legislative Link" chair Dane Anderson who, to my knowledge, isn't even registered in the state. We could only find 13 people from his cabinet of over 50 folks who voted in Chapel Hill. (And the "I voted at home!" line doesn't work, because we couldn't find anyone on his cabinet who voted at home either.) So 37 folks on Seth Dearmin's cabinet couldn't find their way to the polls (then again, these are the same folks who can't figure out who to contact about street lights.)

But there are more surprising folks who didn't vote (my "top offenders", if you will):

  • Brandon Hodges, the President of the Black Student Movement
  • Natalie Murdock, Political Action Committee Chair of Black Student Movement
  • Kris Wampler, campus activist and "guy who sued UNC over the Koran book"
  • Jordan Selleck, Chair of the College Republicans, who just ran for Chair of their statewide Organization
  • J. Robert Austin , the Student Solicitor General
  • About 15 members of UNC's Student Congress
  • The 37 members of Seth Dearmin's Cabinet
  • Derwin Dubose , campus pundit, former DTH Columnist, former Campus Y co-President who posted on his blog telling us to vote

And here are two more UNC officials that I hope have interesting reasons for not voting:

  • Diane Bachman , former Town Council Candidate
  • Bernadette Gray-Little, Chair of College of Arts & Sciences

If all of these student leaders would have voted, and if each of them would have gotten only 10 friends to vote, we would have more than doubled the student turnout.

Maybe the problem is that students "just don't care," but would it really take that much to make voting fashionable? A little innovation and motivation instead of the same bland pit-sitting and emails is all it would take to make voting more than just something nice to put on your Student Body President platform.

And if there are good reasons for not voting or a serious disconnect with students, why don't student leaders talk about that instead? A serious discussion about voting would be more valuable than the hypocritical "Go Vote!" message of "Do what I say, not what I do." There are a few excuses for not voting (but very few good ones), but I'm betting my money on the fact that most of the folks on my list don't have any excuse at all.

NOTE: Daily Tar Heel Editor Ryan Tuck did a great job turning his staff members out to the polls! Nearly all of his desk editors (from city to university to photos to sports!) turned out. So rest assured that the folks responsible for informing the campus didn't fall into the same "Rock the Vote!" trendy rhetoric that other student leaders did.

Ginny Franks is a senior Communications major at UNC-Chapel Hill from Fayetteville, NC. She has been active with UNC Young Democrats, UNC Student Government and the Carolina Athletic Association and now works with the UNC Association of Student Governments as VP of Legislative Affairs. She was one of the 300 students who voted in 2003 municipal elections and one of the 450 or so who managed to find Morehead Planetarium in 2005.

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77 Comments

Thank you, Ginny. Good solid

Thank you, Ginny. Good solid work. You're right that the BOE doesn't always get it right. But using the DTH folks as a control group it's obvious that the error rate isn't significant enough to even mention when your talking about the population of student leaders as a whole.

Mega-kudos to Ryan Tuck and his crew for putting words into actions and exemplifying true citizenship.

I would be interested to hear what Emma Burgin and the "student leaders" have to say about their omission in the voting rolls. I hope DTH makes this into a major story.

I disagree with you about one thing, though, Ginny. Your reaction seems toned down. I can understand not wanting to create a whole new fount of rhetoric. But let's call it what it truly is: a profound cycnicism of the political process, bald opportunism, and a willingness to lie to advance one's position. And that takes it out of the realm of rhetoric and hypocrisy. It is, in fact, an integrity issue.

Ginny, very interesting

Ginny, very interesting work. I suspect that with a printout of the 34,686 folks who didn't vote in Chapel Hill, you would find a lot of "interesting" names. Having 5,728 vote (14%) is nothing to be proud of.

Tell us, how would you have reported on Tom, given that he was working on local campaigns and encouraging people to vote, yet he was (until this election) voting in Michigan? Should someone working for local candidates be registered so that they could vote for them?

Fred: I'm not much reporting

Fred:
I'm not much reporting on anything, and Tom is one of my good friends. However, the point of my post was that student leaders are telling students to be engaged in town politics without following through themselves. I think Tom's civic involvement is pretty unquestionable though, don't you? I've worked for candidates in races I couldn't vote in. How about you? I actually had the chance to spend a summer in Ann Arbor for work, and it's pretty evident that Tom is one of the most active students in politics in two major college towns. He can only vote in one place, but he voted here in 2005 which is what I "reported" on. So he gets a clean bill of civics from me.

TerrI:
I get the drift of your post. I used the SBOE website, and I did not "verify" my "allegations." I thought I loaded up on the disclaimers, though, and I have offered public apology on my blog for anyone I mistakenly identify. I'm sure Ruby would be willing to correct it on here as well. Sorry, it's the best I could do in the midst of working two jobs today.

Like I said, the Daily Tar Heel has more resources than me and Ryan has said they're working on the project. The point was to identify a trend, so even if there is a mistake here and there, the trend is still undeniable: high-ranking student leaders are telling students to vote without doing it themselves. I'm not a journalist so I'm not going to call everybody on the list (unless Fred provides all of their numbers, haha!), but I did "spot check" with people I knew. Saying that my source is sometimes wrong or suggesting that I'm somehow irresponsible doesn't negate the trend I identified. The N&O has to run corrections on occassion and (sometimes they even use unnamed sources and speculation!), but I still think it's a decent source for getting the general sense of the news...

On a side note: So far the best reason for not voting is that two of the guys found out at their polling site in Chapel Hill that they actually lived in Durham. Nothing to add to their voting histories, but points for trying and points for making me laugh!

I think Fred might be more

I think Fred might be more comfortable with my working behind the scenes in Chapel Hill politics without voting here in 2003 if I'd supported Terri Tyson and Dianne Bachman instead of Bill Strom and Sally Greene.

My only regret from that election is not helping out Cam Hill, and I hope I will get the chance to rectify it in 2007!

Ginny and I did most of this research on monday night, and she posted it on her blog tuesday morning. If there were problems with the student leader data we would likely have heard about it by now because almost all of the 'student elite' reads her blog.

It is truly amazing how easy

It is truly amazing how easy you (and others) make assumptions, Tom, and how willing you are to state what other people might believe. I aplaud your involvement in politics but you and Ginny both seem to support a double standard.

Ginny, Thanks for the

Ginny, Thanks for the explanation. You did use disclaimers and that's why I wasn't as concerned by your post as I was about Tom's one-liner on the other thread. After talking to some of these folks, what do you think are top reasons for not voting (after advocating for it)?

"Didn't care." "Didn't feel

"Didn't care."
"Didn't feel educated."
"Doesn't matter."
"Forgot."
"Too busy."
"It turns out I live in Durham."
"They're all crazy liberals anyway."

Also, students don't realize how Town Council affects their daily lives -- which is odd because they vote for Student Body Presidents with town-related items on their platforms that the SBP can't do too much about... Students know they SHOULD vote, but most town-related issues require some sort of prior knowledge to hold an educated opinion on and many town questions can't be answered by falling back on the crutches of party affiliation, religious belief or what your parents think. Most students have no default position on zoning. :)

Ginny, Tom, Yours is a

Ginny, Tom,

Yours is a fascinating piece of research. It brings me out of my doldrum of My-god-Doesn't-Anyone CARE, enough for me to ask, hey, DOESN'T anyone care?

Will the named non-voters be explaining?

Better yet, will they think and vote next time?

How can we teach them that voting their opinion does make a difference?

I am so glad that I work with three and four year olds. They care. Even without being clear that indeed it is their future.

Back to the sand pile.

Ginny, I love you for doing

Ginny,

I love you for doing this -- because it means I don't have to -- but there is one thing I wanted to point out:

If all campus leaders had gotten 10 of their friends to vote, it would have resulted in the same couple of dozen people going to the polls. Student leaders are an incestuous bunch.

Also, though I am not a DTHer for the time being, I would like to say that I am proud that:

1. Every DTH desk editor voted somewhere, and most of them voted in Chapel Hill;

2. Every member of the DTH editorial board voted, and all but one of them voted in Chapel Hill.

Get on my case all you want for the editorials we wrote when I was DTH opinion editor, but damned if we didn't walk the walk.

Terri, as for all the

Terri, as for all the disclaimers, etc. both Ginny and Tom are on solid ground with their numbers.

Chris, the DTH has a lot to be proud of in terms of overall coverage and reaching out. As far as I can tell, you managed to work in something about all the candidates, not just those the other venues might've been more comfortable with....

The fact the staff turned out to vote is really quite a bit more than "icing on the cake"...

I'll be working on a little "voter" analysis for my pseudo-primer on running in Chapel Hill and welcome any suggestions on avenues to explore.

Ginny started with the folk

Ginny started with the folk on Campus that paid lip service to voting. On this thread the conversation expanded to encompass those local citizens that are (self-selected?) leaders in our community.

And now Mark, we have a 3 part harmony, with a suggestion, I think, that we should explore other local "notables"....

Would we take Nelson, Moeser or Howes involvement less seriously if they hadn't voted? What about Battle, MC Sur ly or Coleman? What about Chilton, Marshall or Foy? What about Perry, Zinn or Gurlitz? Hamm, Felton or Jordan?

One of the "themes" in OP's melody is that national change springs from local change. Heck, we just celebrated Ms. Parks valiant "local" effort yesterday, an effort that kick-started a national movement. Would we take her, King, Blair, McCain, McNeil or Richmond as seriously if they didn't vote?

Maybe if we're going to turnaround this abyssmal national trend of diminishing civic involvement we need to have more "local" discussions on voting - what it means, why you should do it, what are the personal consequences for not doing it....

Mark Chilton's picture

I guess, Will, but that

I guess, Will, but that approach is in danger of taking on a sort of purity-fest tone for which this blog has been criticized before. Randomly picking on athletic leaders doesn't prove much to me - particularly when the criticism is lobbed by people who themselves do not have perfect voter turnout records.

My kid didn't vote this

My kid didn't vote this year. I'm ticked at him. His excuse was that he didn't feel he knew enough about the local issues to vote (he's at school in Ohio)...and didn't want to vote jsut to be voting. I told him to get off his butt and register IN OHIO for next year.

melanie

We should expect all

We should expect all eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote, just as we should expect all citizens to obey the law. Paying taxes is a legal requirement, voting isn't.

I still can't find in the OP archives the same outrage toward an elected official not paying his taxes as shown toward private citizens who don't appear in the BOE databank for the Nov 05 election.

Mark Chilton's picture

People who moan about voter

People who moan about voter turnout are the ones who are asking to be in the discussion, Will. Dean Smith wasn't one of them. Eric Muller and Ginny Franks don't have perfect voting records either. In fact, according to the State BOE website, Eric voted in six of the last ten elections - same as Coach Smith.

Rather than evaluating

Rather than evaluating whether a particular person voted or not, it might be that the trully interesting analysis is too look at voting by organization.

Was the Chamber of Commerce any more effective at turning out their membership than the Campus YDs?

Of course, in a "small" community like ours, you'll find folk that are members of a number of overlapping groups, so it'll probally be a somewhat "fuzzy" review. But, at least in terms of going where the votes are, it would help the next slate of candidates in assessing the value of the NRG's support, for instance, over that of the "Citizens Concerned about Carolina North Planning".

Mark, I'm 21 and I've voted

Mark, I'm 21 and I've voted four times -- every November since I was eligible. The two times I didn't vote that you did (7/20/2004 and 8/17/2004) were in primaries and second primaries during which time I was working 65-75 hours a week as a door-to-door salesperson in Michigan without access to internet (I had to sneak away from work to check my email once a month in the library where Tom worked!), the Chapel Hill News or the N&O. Besides, I didn't tell anybody to vote in those primaries or write columns about it in the Daily Tar Heel either.

You may disagree, but I think not voting in a partisan primary is a little different than not voting in the November elections [when it's darn near impossible to say that you don't know when it is, how to do it, or who's running]. If not, then heap upon me the shame of not voting in the primary! :)

I'm fine with displaying my voting record. Most inferences from it are right. From it I think you can correctly infer that I re-registered in Orange when I moved here my freshman year, that I care quite a lot about voting in municipal, state and national elections and that I care quite a bit less about primaries.

Why is not voting all about

Why is not voting all about the individual? Shouldn't we also consider it the responsibility of elected officials and candidates to communicate with the public in such a way that citizens understand the issues, believe that their opinions have influence on policy, and feel like they are engaged in local governance? What about the role of the media? Other than the DTH, did anyone feel that they learned what the critical issues were and how the individual candidates would approach the issues from reading a newspaper or watching/listening to TV/radio?

Certainly the (non) voters have responsibility for executing their privilege, but it's not their responsibility alone. We shouldn't assume that lack of presence means lack of interest. The communication policies of both towns needs to be seriously reviewed. And the responsibility of the media.....well I won't go there.

I'm a perfect 23 for 23 in

I'm a perfect 23 for 23 in the past decade:
10/11/2005 RALEIGH CARY BD OF ED
11/02/2004 GENERAL ABSENTEE
08/17/2004 2ND PRIMARY IN-PERSON
07/20/2004 PRIMARY IN-PERSON
10/07/2003 RALEIGH, CARY & BD OF ED ABSENTEE
11/05/2002 GENERAL ELECTION ABSENTEE
09/10/2002 PRIMARY ABSENTEE
11/06/2001 MUNICIPALITIES & RUNOFF IN-PERSON
10/09/2001 RALEIGH, CARY & BD OF ED IN-PERSON
11/07/2000 GENERAL ELECTION ABSENTEE
05/30/2000 SECOND PRIMARY IN-PERSON
05/02/2000 PRIMARY IN-PERSON
11/02/1999 MUNICIPALITIES & RUNOFF IN-PERSON
10/05/1999 RALEIGH & WAKE BD OF ED IN-PERSON
06/08/1999 WAKE COUNTY BOND IN-PERSON
11/03/1998 GENERAL ELECTION
09/15/1998 CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY
05/05/1998 PRIMARY; RALEIGH BOND
11/04/1997 RALEIGH & WAKE BD OF ED RUNOFF; WAKE COUNTY MUNICIPALITIES
10/07/1997 RALEIGH; WAKE BD OF ED
11/05/1996 GENERAL ELECTION
06/04/1996 DEM & REP 2ND PRIMARY; WAKE CO BOND; GARNER BOND
05/07/1996 05/07/1996 PRIMARY

but all this really begs the issue -- which is that the marginal voter votes when the issues touch home. I suspect the age 18-22 turnout in Orange County in 2004 was 95% of those registered here(after discounting the deadwood on the roll), compared with 4% this year.

While Robin Cutson certainly presented herself differently than the remainder of the candidates this fall, and Will (I believe) is registered as unaffiliated, as an outside observer, I'll say that this fall's election appeared as a squabble among Democratic candidates. There was no Republican candidate to hone a partisan need for a GOTV effort. There were no candidates threatening to cutoff bus service, or saying negative things about students. There was not tens of thousands of dollars and paid staff poured into Chapel Hill by the Democratic party as in 2004. Chapel Hill troops did NOT find WMD in Carrboro while occupying Weaver Street Market and lead students to fear they would be drafted. While the Daily Tar Heel ran an absolutely fantastic editorial and news coverage of the 2005 election, there was another "hook" that could have brought out a larger student vote, an effective student candidate. Jason's campaign clearly never reached the flashpoint of effectiveness. But the DTH went out of its way to NOT endorse a student simply because a student was running, and Ginny herself posted somewhere that she was not supporting Jason because he was not a good candidate and it would hurt a potential 2007 student candidate to support Jason in 2005 (no "fighting with the Army you have" strategy).

Mark Chilton, Diane Bachman

Mark Chilton,

Diane Bachman and Bernadette Gray-Little were both singled out for mention in Ginny's original posting. Did you miss that?

They're not students. And so far as I am aware, neither of them "extolled the virtues of voting." Yet their voting records were dragged up here for public criticism.

If Gray-Little and Bachman are fair game in this thread, then so are Dean Smith and Roy Williams and John Bunting.

I have found this entire thread, from the original posting on, to be frightening. So-called "progressives" lining up to watch and cheer on a public shaming ceremony. What's next? A scarlet "V" on people's clothing?

It's sad that it took my mentioning Dean Smith and Roy Williams to trigger the urge to defend people against ignorant public condemnation of their voting habits. (I say "ignorant" because we have no idea why any of the named people didn't vote; for all we know, they spent the day with a dying relative. Why should they have to explain themselves?)

I'm trying to get my mind around the idea that this community will scream about the threat to privacy posed by a snapshot of your license plate as you put pedal to metal to blow through a red light at a busy intersection, but will then praise somebody for publicly posting the names of people who did not vote in a municipal election along with a request that they account for themselves.

Mark Chilton's picture

Will, I am glad to have a

Will, I am glad to have a discussion about voter turnout and I agree we have been talking about the problem for a long time, but I don't see a solution in the direction of taking cheap shots at easy targets.

I tell you what, though, I will write a longer post as a new thread where we can have a real discussion about voter turnout. How's that?

My apologies, Eric, for misunderstanding your point. Perhaps you should have actually stated your point earlier.

To go back into ancient

To go back into ancient history, it was Dean Smith's voter registration that probably SAVED student voting in Orange County. In 1978, a group from Hillsborough filed close to 8,000 challenges to voters in souther Orange, every dorm resident and every voter at every address that appeared to be an apartment were challenged. Dean Smith was one of those challenged, and in the "court of public opinion", our (I along with Steve Rose filed as intervenors in that case) discovery of Coach Smith on the list turned the tide. Eventually the case reached the State Supreme Court in 1979 which strengthened student voter rights, rather than weakening them as the challenger had hoped.

Terri: The individuals that

Terri:

The individuals that I list as being "worst offenders" are not *just* individual students. I didn't look up the freshman sitting in the back of an Econ 10 class. I didn't look up the guy next to me in the salad bar at Lenoir. I looked up people who are student leaders on campus.

My post originally appeared on my blog directed towards students. The townfolk doesn't need to gather their torches and pitchforks just yet [because the most involved residents already know that student leaders don't do much], but it was intended to make students aware that their leaders aren't doing a whole lot of leading when it comes to civics.

Yes, there is shared responsibility. However, if Town Council candidates are doing a poor job addressing student issues, then these student leaders need to be the ones telling them that. They should be at the forefront of addressing issues to make the debate more relevant to students. It's their responsibility to make a student voice heard in the town -- whether through an election, a column or at a debate or Town Council meeting. I know people don't think that Jason, Tom, Ryan Tuck, Jeff Kim, Chris Coletta, Chris Cameron and I are the only students who live here, but we sure get the monopoly on expressing what students think to town leaders. To me, a vote is a voice. The fact that they didn't vote isn't the grave sin in and of itself; it's the tangible manifestation of a total lack of involvement between student leaders and the town. This lack of involvement is made worse because some poor students think that they have strong advocates to the Town from student leaders because the student leaders make it seem like they're doing a good job. Not voting, along with not doing a lot of other things, is an indication to students that they are not doing what they are saying they are.

If a student candidate has "Get Out the Vote" efforts on their platform for student leadership, then I sort of expect them to get out the vote. Throwing up your hands and saying that you tried but it can't be done because students don't care is just plain silly -- Ryan Tuck's staff provides the proof that it can be done. He got his staff to turn out without fanfare (I only found out by checking them out of curiousity), while other student leaders trump up their efforts that lack substance in their October Reports and interviews with the press.

[Also, as far as individuals go, I think it's reasonable to expect a high-ranking university administrator and a former Town Council candidate to vote in a municipal election.]

Terri and Eric, I'm quite

Terri and Eric, I'm quite concerned about the extremely corrosive nature technology has on privacy. Folks legal records are on line. Folks tax whoopsies are on line. Folks voting records are on line. Where's do we draw the line?

Eric, remember that it wasn't the privacy issue of taking pictures of putative RLR license plates that was the major problem - it was the fact the pictures could be (and are) tampered with and that the tainted evidentiary chain is passed off as "the real story".

And then I realized that it

And then I realized that it was unlikely that most of you know what the October Report is (progress report for Student Government) or where to find it:
http://php.unc.edu/studgov/

You may enjoy these excerpts:
"Town Relations/Voter Push: After being taught a lesson this summer in regard to Student Government's involvement with the town of Chapel Hill, Dearmin has worked to involve the Executive Branch in town happenings. Efforts are underway to collaborate with town committees and boards on a variety of projects including busing, off campus lighting, and wireless investment."

"Increase lighting around and along routes to Greek houses by working closely with the Town of Chapel Hill: The chairs have attempted to contact the Town of Chapel Hill regarding
the lighting but have not yet been able to find the appropriate contact person. Further efforts will be made to establish a working dialogue about this issue."

"Student Involvement in Local Politics: The focus of this Committee up through the municipal election in November
is to increase student awareness of and to promote involvement in the local political scene. This Committee is working in close coordination with VoteCarolina to educate students about the upcoming election and encourage voting. This Committee hopes to increase voter turnout from the last municipal election by over 300%."

Ginny, I also think it's

Ginny, I also think it's reasonable to expect that high-ranking university administrators and former Town Council candidates will not be alcoholics. That doesn't mean that I'll be out counting the bottles in their curbside recycling bins and reporting what I find here on OP.

Gray-Little and Bachman did nothing that called for this little drive-by sniping. It's shameful.

We did look up Provost

We did look up Provost Shelton, he lives in Chatham County.

We did look up Coach Smith, he doesn't vote in Chapel Hill.

There was no systematic list but Dean of Arts and Sciences is a high ranking position so that was one of the university administrators we figured would have voted- we looked up all the Vice Chancellors we could think of too. UNC officials frequently whine about the town's actions, so you would think they would all be voting.

I actually didn't look them

I actually didn't look them up -- there were a couple of folks helping me to compile this (it's sort of a tedious task).

Eric: You simply assumed that we didn't look up other folks, which isn't very fair. I do know that we looked up Provost Shelton and Dean Smith, but Provost Shelton is registered in Chatham and I don't think he was eligible to vote in Chapel Hill municipal elections. Dean Smith also apparently lives out-of-bounds.

The research isn't perfect, but it was applied pretty fairly to an ever-widening circle of leaders.

The only "scorn" applied to Bachman and Gray-Little was to suggest that I hope they had good reasons for not voting. Everything else was addressed to student leaders.

Eric, It is perfectly

Eric,

It is perfectly reasonable for private citizens to use public records to make whatever point they want. Instead of criticizing Ginny and me (although that's fine) your time might be better spent lobbying the legislature not to make voting records public, if you think it's such an affront to privacy.

Maybe it's just my

Maybe it's just my unfamiliarity with the Chatham Co. website, but I couldn't find a race for which Shelton's precinct was eligible to vote...?

Maybe you could help us with our research.

"It is perfectly reasonable

"It is perfectly reasonable for private citizens to use public records to make whatever point they want." I think Tom that you are hearing a lack of consensus on that statement. To repeat my statement from yesterday, it is perfectly reasonable for the state to make those records public; it is inherent upon private citizens to use those records responsibly. And it is 'perfectly reasonable' for those who object to the misuse of those records to make their objections known.

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