Today, the Orange County Board of Elections voted to take early voting away from the UNC Campus. The early voting site at Seymour Senior Center would remain unchanged, but the second early voting site would be moved from the Morehead Planetarium to the Quik-E-Mart in University Square. While this may not seem like a big deal, moving the UNC student body's primary voting site off campus is the wrong thing to do. Below is the email from Town Manager Roger Stancil:
At this time, we have worked with the University to identify the following site that meets all the requirements outlined in your email to our director of Communications and Public Affairs, Sabrina Oliver. I have discussed this with the Mayor and we believe this site plus the Senior Center meet the Town’s interests as early voting sites. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you as needed. The University and Town stand ready to work with you to make sure the two sites meet all interests and requirements of the Board of Elections. I did not know until now that you required this information within the hour.
123 West Franklin Street
Suite 133-G (rear of building, beside Ken’s Quickie Mart)
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Please let me know if you have questions.
Although this plan is described here as "best meeting the Town's interests", I disagree. With no on-campus voting site for students, we stand to lose the input of a large section of the electorate. Indeed, young people were largely responsible for the passion and optimism that helped to turn North Carolina blue in 2008; if we make it more difficult for students to vote, we not only get less votes in favor of policies we support, but we also miss out on the opportunity for a democracy that encompasses all the diversity that Chapel Hill has to offer.
Try to put yourself in a typical UNC student's shoes. Not only are you busy with class and extracurricular activities, but you may also not have a car on campus. In addition to registering to vote, which requires mailing or delivery of registration forms, you also must find your polling location, no easy task in a campus fractured into no less than 5 different voting districts (For example, my first year at UNC I lived in Hinton James Dorm. I was in Mason Farm precinct, but Ehringhaus Hall, right across the street from me, was part of Greenwood. Does that make sense?) After getting your registration back in the mail and figuring out where you can go to vote, you have to be able to get there on Election Day. If you don't have a car, this means figuring out which bus routes you will need to take to and from the polling location, and then spend time in transit and in line on Election Day. In short, it swiftly becomes both difficult and time-consuming to vote.
All of the above problems could easily be solved through a simple decision from the BOE: keep early voting at Morehead Planetarium! In order for a democracy to function, all parts of the electorate must be presented with an opportunity to make their voice heard. The fact of the matter is that under this plan, most students simply won't vote - and that is unacceptable. Some university officials, local leaders, and Board of Elections officials worked hard to find a location in close proximity to campus, and I appreciate their efforts. If our community had a chance to engage in dialogue on the issue prior to the vote, this outcome could have been acceptable.
However, all that aside, the thing that bothers me the most about this decision is this (from the email): " I did not know until now that you required this information within the hour."
This above all else shows that the BOE has made a hasty, ill-informed decision in taking early voting away from the Morehead Planetarium. No matter the proposal, no serious decision should be undertaken after less than 45 minutes of debate. If the BOE was truly interested in the best interests of Chapel Hill as a whole, they would have quickly realized that the student vote should not and cannot be marginalized in this manner. As a student who has voted time and again on-campus, it feels an awful lot like the Orange County Board of Elections arbitrarily and flippantly decided to stifle me and my fellow students' ability to vote, and I am not okay with that. Are you?