Can Students Count?

By popular demand, here's a thread for discussing the significance, or lack, or potential of student votes. Let's start with recent posts by John A.:

From the Town Data Book:

Table 21: UNC Population 1990-2002: Student Body, Employees, & Hospital Employees
Year /Students /UNC Staff/ UNC Hospital Staff
2002 /26,028 /10,115 /5,473

Don't know where all the above folks live, but even if only half lived in Chapel Hill, they would in fact be a powerful voting bloc. And if they voted as a bloc, would these "citizens" be discounted as tools of UNC? What if they voted "Chapel Hill First" as a bloc?

I think the uncertainties of Carolina North is a shared feeling among employees too, but I still think the well organized campaign against Bachman was wrong because there as not been anything to show a conflict of interest. I still wish I had a dollar for every vote that has surprised me because I assumed that someone would vote another way.

And Simon Spero:

...I can imagine situations where the student vote might dominate (e.g. anti-rental zoning changes before an off-year election leading to an organized registration drive and single issue slate).




If town elections were ever be decided by online voting, I suspect students would show up in force. Also, look for a student to run in 2005. If student government maintains a strong interest in town affairs through the next year, I think that after a presidential election there might just be enough interest for students to push their own candidate into office.


I wouldn't consider 6,901 votes cast as any major breakthrough. Most of those votes are because about 200 students walk around campus all day long asking anyone and everyone to make sure they vote.

If town elections were ever decided by online voting, I suspect students would show up in force. Also, look for a student to run in 2005. If student government maintains a strong interest in town affairs through the next year, I think that after a presidential election there might just be enough interest for students to push their own candidate into office. I don't think it's a matter of timing in the sense that you suggest, but more over, a matter of timing in the political culture of Chapel Hill.

Mike, I could attribute some of this to the convenience of 'net based voting, but saying that %90 of the votes came as a matter of ease, well, I hope not. (%10 ~ 700 votes, more than the detectable on-campus student turnout for 2003).

Would you use any of your BOT contributions to help create a student 'political culture' or are they all ear-marked for downtown development issues?

CAN they? Certainly, should they choose to. WILL they? Doubtful.



I tried. I pledged a dollar to student charities for every student that voted in the election. I would have been happy for all of my left over contributions (or even more, if it required raising more) to have paid for that promise. Unfortunately, students didn't turn out to vote, and only a portion of that money will go to to the student charities.

Mark Chilton is being modest. He won in 1991 as a 21 year-old

student because he ran an excellent campaign and, in spite

of his inexperience spoke well enough about the issues

to achieve the confidence of Chapel Hill voters from 18 to

80. That was a tough race with 12 candidates, and some of

those who Mark defeated were quite well-known and experienced in town issues.

Every student body president I have known has promised

that she or he will get out the student vote in town council

elections, yet all have failed. A major complaint over the

years has been that the student polling places are too far

away and too difficult to reach -- that used to be true.

However, that is the case for almost all CH voters, perhaps

with Carol Woods as the sole exception since they have their own

polling place. However a few years ago, when the early voting

site in Morehead planeterium was opened, that argument

fell. If any UNC student can't walk to the planeterium for

a few minutes during any of the twelve days before the

election, the student just isn't interested in CH politics at

this time in his/her life. I don't have the answer, but the

students are part of CH, pay taxes, use town services, and

are welcome and encouraged to participate like any other


So, in yesterday's UNC elections 6,901 votes were cast.

In the 2003 council race, 8012 total votes cast. As far as an analysis of the student vote, it appeared that on campus voters made up less than 500 of those votes.

With all the talk of student participation in town policy decisions, I have to wonder why their enthusiasm was piqued by the on campus election and not by the general election.

Is it simply a matter of timing? Is November too soon for the student populace to get up to speed? It's hard to believe that's a factor given the fairly short campaign cycle I saw on campus.

I tend to agree with Mark, but I could also see something done at the Town level that could really motivate students to vote. I also think that students, as rational actors, will get involved when they feel threatened or aggrieved, and that they are all not as apathetic as some think.

As for John A's point, I do believe the false dichotomy, UNC vs. CH could turn into a vulgar brawl down the road unless the rhetoric cools and all parties approach this as Ruby has clearly stated in another thread. This does not have to be win-loose --- all can win.

I think it would take a lot to produce a giant student block vote in a Town Council election, but I think students can be influential in other ways. Sally and Bill had a lot of appeal to a group of about 15 highly politically motivated students at UNC in this election, and they knocked on 3000 doors for them, as well as writing a lot of letters to the editor, and helping to coordinate some other campaign activities. If candidates in the future can tap into that kind of energy it will help them get a lot more votes, even if it does not produce a huge student vote on their behalf.

Tom, that's a really good point. In 1991 I had a LOT of student volunteers working on my campaign. I would definitely have lost the race without them. A handful of students can have a significant impact in an election that is close. Of course, a handful of any sort of people can have such an effect, but who has the time? There are people out there who do. Sometimes students are among them.

-mark chilton

Students (like all people) vote when they are presented with issues that they care about and can understand. The problems with the theory that UNC students could be a huge voting bloc are that students 1) have political opinions that are very diverse and 2) often believe that they will not be here for very many years and that the election will not have that much effect on them

When I ran in 1991, we undertook a huge voter registration drive and get-out-the-vote campaign. After reviewing turnout data after the election, I estimated that about 500 or 600 students voted in the race (probably mostly for me). I won the race by 450 votes, so the students did determine the outcome of that race, but it was hardly the dominating factor. The fact that the NAACP, Sierra Club and Independent endorsed me was probably much more important. But all of it was important; I won by a relatively narrow margin that year no matter how you slice it, and in a close race, everything is important.

In 1989 Alan Rimer was a challenger for the Town Council and he appeared at a forum sponsored by Student Government. At the forum a CGLA (as it was then known, Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association) member asked what the candidates thought about a downtown bar that had an anti-gay admission policy (as reported in the DTH - another great story broken by the studnet press!). The candidates each answered in turn and each candidate made a stronger statement than the previous one about anti-gay discrimination. Poor Alan Rimer had to go last, but he was not going to be outdone! Alan pretty much promised that he would personally kick the bar-owner's ass and run himout of town on a rail! The half dozen CGLA members present were duly impressed.

On election night, Alan picked up the fourth spot by a margin of FIVE votes. FIVE. David Pasquini (the fifth place finisher) called for a recount and the final official margin of victory (after the recount) was THREE votes. THREE! Now, you tell me: Did the student vote carry the day in 1989? How about the gay vote? Hell, every kind of vote carried the day. Evey move, every word at every forum carried the day. Alan won by three votes. Everything mattered.

Can students count? Sometimes. Definitely, sometimes.

-Mark Chilton


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