BOE Axes the Student 45 Minutes

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:


From: Roger Stancil 
Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 2:50 PM
To: 'Tracy Reams'; Sabrina Oliver
Subject: RE: Early Voting Site


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?



Wait a second, they're moving early voting from Morehead to U-Square and you're complaining?  Are you serious?  It is still in a convenient location for students and perhaps even a more convenient location for students overall considering how many live in Granville Towers. Meanwhile, early voting hours are  grossly slanted in favor of  people towards people that don't work a regular weekday schedule, which includes students. Students have had at most a very small percentage of their extra privilege taken away.  Would you care to tell us why they deserved to have the extra privilege of much more convenient voting hours in the first place?

the GOP legislature is trying to pass like requiring photo IDs that have your current address (student id's dont have this, and those who have can afford cars/driver licenses dont always update them in a timely manner when moving for college), and trying to end preregistration for nearly of age voters, possible attacks on early voting/same day registration/provisional ballots, and all the other stuff they hope to pass, its not like students are going to have an easy time voting in future elections to begin with.I need to learn more about what happened here, but so far, I am not a fan. 

This was not the  BOE. UNC made the decission to take the  Morehead Planetariumn away as an early voting site. Their claim was the space the town uses for early voting will now be the home to a day care center and it is no longer available. So if you want to wrtie letters and express your anger, it should be directed at the university not the BOE.

the word is *WRITE. Sorry I type to fast for my mind sometimes.

Just a factual note.  At the beginning of August, the University informed the BOE that Morehead would not be available as an Early Voting Site this year. The Town and University staffs then looked at several alternatives and finally decided U-Square was the best option available and as the email from Manager Stancil states, discussed it with the Mayor.  It is my understanding that Mayor Kleinschmidt subsequently spoke with Jim White, Chair of the Orange County Board of Elections and former Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party and they agreed the U-Square option was the best available under the circumstances.

According to Google Maps, walking time from Hinton James dorm to University Square is 6 minutes longer than to Morehead Planetarium (less if you cut through Fraternity Court.)

More than anything, this seems like it was a problem with the process. 45 minutes is not sufficient for public notice, and citizens would have known only if they closely analyzed the e-mails sent to town council. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go through town e-mails while I’m at work in the afternoon on a Tuesday. It sounds like UNC officials were the ones who pulled the plug on Morehead, but town leaders and Board of Elections officials share blame for not being transparent about the decision. Had they received advance notice, I am sure many community members would certainly have taken the opportunity to weigh in on this issue.

As a recent graduate of UNC,
I wanted to give my thoughts on the decision by the University and the BOE to
move the early vote location from Morehead Planetarium to University Square.
(For the purposes of full disclosure, I am working on Lee Storrow’s campaign,
but my comments are not intended to represent the views of the campaign or
Lee’s personal opinions in any way.)


When I learned of the
decision to move the early vote location, and in particular how that decision
was made, I found myself very frustrated. I fully understand why Jose and other
members of the community see University Square and Morehead Planetarium as basically
the same thing. However, on vs. off campus is a significant divide in students'
minds, especially for first years still learning to navigate their lives away
from home as new adults, new Chapel Hill residents and new voters.


That being said, while I am
frustrated with the decision itself, I am much more concerned with the way the
decision was made. No students were involved in the discussion or even aware of
it. I know Mayor Kleinschmidt has close relationships with a number of
students, and it’s a shame that he didn’t reach out to any of them for input.
Even if nothing could have been done, students and community members should
have had an opportunity to voice their concerns about the change. Surely if the
town was considering moving the early vote location from the Senior Center
there would have been a much more open process involving members of that
community. I understand that the BOE did not have the lead role in this
decision and also why the University chose this path in a time of austerity.
But I hope in the future the discussion surrounding such decisions is diverse
and inclusive.


action epitomizes the disconnect many students feel toward the town at large. I
know many on this blog feel that the lack of student participation shows that
students are apathetic toward local policy, but I also think the lack of
involvement comes from some students' feelings that no one in the town
understands their perspective or engages them in discussions about local
issues. Incidents like this don’t do anything to improve that perception.

Now that UNC owns University Square, you could argue that the early voting site remains on campus. On the face of it, using part of Morehead for a child care center that will serve children and working families is a fine use of the space. Considering how vast the UNC campus is, walking the extra block or two to vote seems trivial. 

It is exactly this viewpoint that frustrates students the most. No, you can't argue the University Square is on campus. Because it isn't. Nobody even considers Granville Towers to be on campus and it's a dormitory (Granville promotors even emphasize it's separation from other on campus dorms).Speaking to everyone, it's hard enough for people in my position to get students engaged in the political process. Looking at the student turnout from any election will tell you that it is no easy task to get students to give up even part of their day to go vote. I've been in close contact with the BOE and several people in the community for a good part of the summer to make sure that Morehead was not taken away or that we at least found a reasonable alternative, and not once was I told that this space was even being considered. I think that when you have people like me who actually pay a good deal of attention to the issue, and a decision is made without us even knowing it was being considered, there is a problem with communication.It seems insignificant to me as well that the mayor and BOE were consulted on the issue and that it somehow absolves the university administration of their failure to keep students involved in the process. I want to hold all responsible parties accountable, and the fact that student leaders who were in constant communication with the administration on this very issue were not informed, even after the decision, is appalling. If there is going to be meaningful dialogue and cooperation between students, university administration and the town then decisions have to be more transparent and they have to be made with the input of all interested parties.Nathan WestmorelandPresident - UNC Young Democrats 

"Speaking to everyone, it's hard enough for people in my position to get
students engaged in the political process. Looking at the student
turnout from any election will tell you that it is no easy task to get
students to give up even part of their day to go vote."Nathan, I don't disagree that the University and the other parties should have done a better job of keeping everyone informed about their plans regarding changing the early voting site on campus but I'm bothered by your statements above that I've pulled from your post.  I'm bothered that you or anyone else has to plead or beg or cajole young adults to exercise their right to vote. I guess we're doing a pretty damn poor job of teaching civics in high school since so many college students seem indifferent to exercising this right.  Perhaps I'm too distanced from the young crowd to understand the basis for this apathy but I sure would appreciate some enlightenment because I cannot begin to fathom why someone wouldn't want to at least try to have some say in what is going on around them. 

rather than fewer UNC students vote in the next election. I wonder if there really will be childcare provided in that space as someone mentioned in an earlier post because if that is true, I think moving the early voting site makes sense. I don't mean to be against students. I, too, attended UNC ages and ages ago. I am for supporting children and working families. Some childcare exists in downtown Chapel Hill, but not much. In the face of that, I think asking students to walk to Granville Towers to vote is reasonable. It would have been better had everyone not been blindsided by this news. 

Parking for early voters at Morehead was always a snap.  They allocated special spots in the lot, and didn't charge if you drove out with the 'I voted' sticker.I haven't been to any place at U Square in years as the parking was incomprehensible.  Maybe it's different now, but I never knew if I was parking in an 'allowed' spot, even if I was patronizing a business there.  John Rees

I'd just like to clarify that the Morehead site can not be used for early voting this year because of renovations/construction that will be underway during the early voting time frame.  Linda Convissor

The university said Morehead had to be cut for budget reasons, another commentor said it was for child care, and now you say it's because of construction. Does anybody know for sure the reason?

As director of local relations for UNC, I would assume Linda's statement above is the official reason for the space being unavailable.  Perhaps the construction in another wing forced relocation of other uses of the space to the early voting area, so it could technically be both construction and that the space is needed for child care.Though, I'm not sure why the post office wasn't considered. I thought it was quite convenient when I voted there in 2007 and got plenty, perhaps more, traffic than Morehead. I wonder what the situation will be like for those of us who would like to greet voters as they go to vote at the new location?

There was considerable amount of bitching just as there is now on moving the early voting site to the Post Office before. I would not be surprised if that was a factor in deciding on a new site this time. Accessibility is a major factor in selecting an early or election day voting site.

I think that around 2002 or 2003 when Morehead was being renovated early voting moved across the street to the Old Post Office for one election

I don't know about 2002, but early voting was also moved to the Post Office in 2007. As a student, it was still convenient, but it was also a rather awkward set-up, because you had to walk through the voting area to use the post office.

From the UNC Facilities Planning page on the Planetarium renovation:"The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is proposing to build a twenty thousand square feet addition to the Morehead Planetarium. This addition will be located at the north entrance of the Planetarium facing the Morehead Sundial and East Franklin Street. The addition will be part of a comprehensive renovation of the planetarium and it will provide new patron spaces and a new lobby for visitors. Moreover, it will also provide a new entry off of East Franklin Street for the Planetarium. The renovation will include an upgrade of the mechanical and electrical services of the building, an upgrade of the Planetarium, itself and renovations of the exterior features such as the roof and the brick facades. The pedestrian entrance to the planetarium will be substantially improved during this project; while the rotunda entrance on the east side of the building and the Foundation offices on the west side will remain."It was scheduled for completion in October, but I suspect it is behind schedule which prompted the late notice. 

So no childcare. 

I did a quick search and don't find what conditions have to be met to make a site eligible for consideration. I assume accessibility is one of the criteria which might make the downtown post office ineligible.

 I posted a response with some info about the choice of locations.  Jim White
Chair, Orange County Board of Elections


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