As students prepare to cast their ballots in favor of their preferred candidates, various university and student organizations are gearing up to empower voters across campus. Both Leadership and Civic Engagement and Student Government are at the forefront of voter engagement and accessibility for on-campus voting, often collaborating with each other.
Brian Mathis, the associate director for Leadership and Civic Engagement, said the department is working closely with multiple organizations to maximize NC State student voter turnout. According to Mathis, Pack the Polls, a nonpartisan initiative focusing on increasing voter engagement and turnout, works with students as well as faculty, staff and community coalitions, such as the League of Women Voters of Wake County, Democracy North Carolina and Common Cause North Carolina.
“Before we started the Pack the Polls program, you’d see a lot of these organizations, having the same goal of getting students to vote, having to table out the Brickyard on the same day at the same time,” Mathis said. “So instead, we decided to bring all of the organizations together and say, ‘Hey, let’s maximize our efforts by sharing a common calendar, coordinating so, like, if you can table one day then maybe Student Government is tabling another day.’”
One way Pack the Polls is ensuring college voter engagement is by registering Talley Student Union as an early voting site. There, people will have the opportunity to cast their ballots early from Oct. 15-31. Those voting at Talley Student Union will need to wear a mask and practice social distancing to protect themselves from COVID-19, according to the Pack the Polls website.
Mathis said creating an early voting site on campus was a multistep process. First, Leadership and Civic Engagement, alongside campus organizations like Student Government and Campus Enterprises, sent a proposal to the Wake County Board of Elections (BOE) for Talley Student Union to be an early voting site. Once approved, the department collaborated with the BOE and other campus organizations, such as NCSU Transportation and the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, to properly staff and run the early voting site.
Maintaining Talley Student Union as an early voting site hasn’t been easy for many of these organizations. Student Body President Melanie Flowers, a fourth-year studying communications, said that the summer meeting for approving Talley Student Union became closed for public comments at the last minute.
“We had like 40 minutes to get that message out and get our comments in advocating for Talley to be selected,” Flowers said. “In the BOE meeting selecting Talley, it was really great to hear board members say ‘I’m not voting on a plan that doesn’t include NC State’, because we are such an ideal location for Raleigh and our college.”
NC State Senator Kennedy Sain and other student senators wrote R57, the Voter Engagement Act, to tackle voter disengagement and disenfranchisement on campus. The bill calls for various changes regarding on-campus voting: the inclusion of voter registration information through MyPack Portal, hosting public forums for candidates to interact with students and advocating for making Witherspoon Student Center a polling location instead of Pullen Community Center.
According to Sain, R57’s petition of moving the voting site from Pullen to Witherspoon in the future came from a conversation with Mathis.
“I had the discussion with Brian Mathis that, apparently, if you were to move the voting area to Witherspoon, you’d be increasing the registered voters that are within walking distance like astronomically,” Sain said. “I think it would go up 60%, and they would be within 3,500 feet of the polling site, so I just thought ‘Why would you not do that?’”
The Pack the Polls ambassador program is also a major way organizations are trying to engage students and encourage them to vote. Ambassadors are students representing organizations such as Student Government, the Inter-Residence Council and NC State Athletics.
Director of Government Affairs Andy Lam, a fifth-year studying materials science and engineering, talked about the various activities ambassadors do.
“We’ve gone into many classrooms and many organizations on campus to talk about registering to vote and the process of registering to vote, and it’s a ten-minute presentation,” Lam said. “It’s not long at all, and there was also Kahoot trivia to keep students engaged if the professor or the organization wanted to do something like that. Right now, we’re kind of brainstorming on volunteering for early voting.”
The University has also put up a few fronts regarding voter accessibility at NC State. According to Sain, R57 did not include the call to include voter registration information during first-year orientation because of pushback.
“I don’t know why, but they were a little adamant about me not including that, so I’m pretty sure I exempted it,” Sain said. “But in short, I don’t think they’re doing enough, given the lengthy legislation on it, but I hope this is a push in the right direction.”
Many student political organizations are working to encourage students to vote, hoping to increase college student turnout in this election cycle.
Madi Mrzygod, a third-year studying criminology, is advocating for student voter turnout with College Democrats.
“We’re focusing on voter education and spreading the word about important events, phone banking opportunities and how to become involved politically in your community,” Mrzygod said. “Right now, we’re having weekly meetings with different local candidates coming to speak to us.”
Mi Familia at NC State, a student organization that works to promote Latinx community and culture to all students, said in a statement that, while they might not agree with every policy on a candidate's platform, they cannot overlook candidates’ stances on issues that directly affect Latinx people in the U.S., such as investment in public transportation. To engage young voters, Mi Familia shares posts on social media to educate their followers on where to vote in Wake County and other important voting deadlines.
“Most of our members are part of the Latinx community and many will tell you that they will be voting because not only does their vote voice their opinion but it also speaks for the needs of those in their household that are not able to cast a ballot,” the statement said.
Technician reached out to NC State College Republicans; however, they declined an interview.