(Editor's note from 2013 - twenty years ago, I took in-person advantage of my First Amendment right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" and lobbied the Chapel Hill Town Council for the first-ever time. I remember being proud to speak in front of two of my friends, Mark Chilton and Joe Herzenberg, who both were then still serving together on the Council. The issue at hand was whether the Council should be able to schedule recall elections during the summer, which was under discussion at the time because vocal conservatives and anti-gay bigots were working to try and recall Herzenberg after he came forward to pay several years' worth of back taxes.)
My name is Erik Ose, and I'm a senior UNC student who plans to settle here in Chapel Hill. I'm also an Orange County special registration commissioner, i.e., a volunteer voter registrar, and I've helped coordinate campus and community voter registration drives for the last three years.
I want to speak against allowing any recall elections or other elections to be held during the summer months in Chapel Hill, when most students and many faculty members are not in town.
If there was previously a perception that UNC students do not vote in Chapel Hill town elections, today that perception is no longer true.
For the last three years, a conscious effort has been made by student leaders, community activists, and dedicated voter registrars to encourage political participation among UNC students by registering them to vote here, where they go to school.
It's more than a matter of convenience for students to be allowed to vote where they attend college, it's a question of access and of fairness. The trend towards declining voter participation amongst young people is due in large part to the outdated voter registration system we have in this country. There's no uniform system that lets people's voting rights follow them from address to address, so students who live away from home are structurally discouraged from voting during a crucial period in their development as citizens.
The rules governing application for absentee ballots are not well publicized by most county election boards. Thus, even those students who want to vote often don't know where to turn in order to do so. You can't expect citizens to navigate the often intimidating labyrinth of government unless the government makes a good faith effort to help us find our way.
That's where the need for registering students to vote in Chapel Hill came from. You could say that it's something a college town can do to help create an atmosphere conducive to political involvement for its student residents, sort of like a culture of voting. After all, Chapel Hill is a college town, and as such I believe it has a special responsibility to take the needs of its student and faculty residents into account.
Before the 1990 election, approximately 3300 people, almost all of them students and staff, registered to vote on campus at UNC. For the 1991 election, the figures were another 1200, and in 1992, a total of 4500. These numbers were record breaking ones for Orange County.
Assuming that these 9,000 new registrations were somewhat evenly split between Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents, and that as many as one third of them have may have already graduated, that still leaves at least 3,000 students who are current residents of Chapel Hill, are currently registered to vote here, and will be eligible to vote here in next fall's town elections.
When you consider that no more than 8,000 people voted in the last round of town council races, you're talking about disfranchising at least 40% of the town's eligible electorate. Most of the currently seated town council members have never received more than 3000-5000 votes in their bids for public office.
If elections are not specifically prohibited from being held in the summer months, the university community, and especially students, will be discriminated against, and a noble experiment in increasing political involvement among young people will be irreparably harmed.