College students working for historic youth vote turnout with virtual events

As America heads to the polls today, student advocates are making sure North Carolina college students make their voices heard.

The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG) Students New Voters Project is holding virtual voter turnout events with students from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Pembroke, N.C. State, App State, Duke University, Durham Tech, Forsyth Tech and Guilford Tech.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having moved many of the state’s college students’ courses online, the group has moved its traditional get-out-the-vote efforts online.

“We have traded in our clipboards for Google Docs,” said Hannah Varnell, an NCPIRG intern and senior at UNC -Charlotte, in a statement Tuesday. “Now, we are delivering class announcements through our laptop cameras while seated at our kitchen tables.”

Young people in the Millennial and Generation Z demographics make up the largest group of potential voters in the country this election season, the group said. But young people are historically underrepresented due to their low voter turnout. NCPIRG is hoping to change that with virtual “Party at the Polls” phone banking events they hope will encourage thousands of their peers to vote.

“Information from student guides on how to vote safely in person is helpful, but young people reaching out to their peers has proven to be a far more effective way of helping new voters get out to the polls,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

During an uncertain fall semester that saw some of the nation’s largest universities opening and then closing, the still managed to reach more than 5,000 students through virtual classroom events and partnered with campus administrators, faculty and other student groups to help students make a voting plan.

“We worked with administrators and student government to send out all campus emails that reached thousand students in a single day.” said UNC- Pembroke Campus Organizer Jen Hibberts, “Building a diverse vote coalition on campus was critical to reach every student on campus.”

The group points to recent data showing early voting in North Carolina and other states exceeds the totals from 2016, which should lead to historic voter turnout this election.

“Nationally, I am encouraged to see so many young people voting early and the work NCPIRG student leaders and our partners in North Carolina contributed to that effort,” said New Voters Project Director Manny Rin. “After the election, the work continues to make sure the youth voice is heard. Our student leaders will continue working with their campuses to ensure voting is a part of the fabric of their institutions and not just an effort every 4 years.”

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