College Democrats and College Republicans at UNC are working together this week to register students to vote.
Though it only makes a small difference, it’s encouraging news in light of recent changes made by lawmakers in Raleigh.
“The biggest change that will affect college students is the repeal of same-day registration and voting,” says former North Carolina Democratic State Senator Ellie Kinnaird.
She resigned last year in frustration over actions taken by the Republican-led General Assembly.
Since then, she’s focused on registering people to vote, She’s also helping some voters get state IDs that would make them eligible to vote under Republican-supported voting reform measures signed into law last year by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Kinnaird predicts that another change brought about by the new voter law, the end of same-day registration, will make a big difference in student turnout for elections – and not in a good way:
“I think we’re going to see a huge dropoff in the voter registration and the voting of college students.”
But not if the student organizations representing Democrats and Republicans at UNC have anything to say about it.
Twenty-year-old Wilson Parker is the president of the Young Democrats at UNC. He describes his organization’s relationship with the College Republicans as friendly.
“We obviously have our political differences, but they are our good friends,” he says.
Kathryn Walker, the Chair of the College Republicans at UNC, agrees.
“We look forward to working together,” she says. “We are involved in friendly debates where we just get together and debate different ideas from our different political standpoints. So we really do have a really great working relationship.”
This week, weather permitting, volunteers from the College Democrats and Republicans will work together out in The Pit near the Student Union to get students registered ahead of the Friday deadline to vote in the May 6 primary.
Despite the conventional wisdom of more seasoned political organizers, who prefer to pay more attention to college students when it’s general-election time, both Parker and Walker want to engage students during the entire process.
“I think it’s very important to stay involved in the primary, and throughout the whole thing,” says Walker, “because as far as elections go, you want to make sure that you’re following the entire thing.”
Parker says that even students who follow the process may be under the impression they’ll need a state-issued ID to vote in this election. That’s not true until 2016, when college IDs will not count at the polls under the new laws.
Like Kinnaird, Parker really doesn’t like the state-mandated elimination of same-day registration and voting during the early-voting period.
“People who didn’t register at the DMV, or don’t re-register when they moved – and many students that don’t re-register immediately upon moving to college — really were able to take advantage of that,” he says.
Walker, the College Republican, says she’s not so sure same-day registration is much of a factor for students.
“It’s hard to say for students,” says Walker, “because, first of all, a lot of students vote in their own hometown, and not as many are voting in Chapel Hill. And I am not sure how that will hinder students yet. I guess we will see that in the elections to come. But we’re hoping to get out the word that we can have students registered to vote, so they won’t run into any problems with it.”