WCU Ambassadors Successfully Advocate for Polling Place on Campus

The University Center at Western Carolina University (WCU) is the proposed location of the newly approved early voting polling place (EVPP) for the November election. This action, aimed at increasing voter engagement on WCU’s campus, comes after months of research, organizing, and lobbying by students working with the Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) and Campus Vote Project, collectively known as the Democracy Coalition.

On May 31st, the students led by AGF Ambassador Joanna Woodson and advised by AGF Campus Champion Dr. Lane Perry, presented their case to the Jackson County Board of Elections. One registered Democrat, one registered Republican, and one unaffiliated student, gave testimony to the Board for why they believed an EVPP was a necessary addition to the campus. The Democracy Coalition gathered over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, staff, and community members to show the depth of community support for the action. The initiative also gained support from North Carolina State Senator Tom Apodaca, an alumnus of Western Carolina, and North Carolina State Representative Joe Sam Queen, as well as upper administration at the university.

Dr. Lane Perry, Mick Cauthen (I), Joanna Woodson, Ronnie Davia (D), Connor Hickey (R) at the Jackson County Board of Elections meeting and presentation on May 31, 2016.

“I am so excited to have a polling place on campus because it eliminates all the problems that kept students from voting before—the distance, the travel time on the shuttle, the issue of finding time between classes and work. This even helps with the voter ID issue. If students forget their ID in their dorm, they don’t have to go through all the trouble to make several trips,” said junior social work student Jill Reynolds.

WCU students make up 25 percent of Jackson County voters, and vote at a percentage higher than the general population of North Carolina. In 2012, the university saw its largest turnout in history, with 51 percent of the student body participating. By working with the county to bring the polling station to campus, the Democracy Coalition hopes to not only make voting more accessible to all constituents but also surpass its record voter turnout by aiming to increase participation to over 75 percent.

“We are very proud of our WCU Vote Everywhere team,” said Vote Everywhere Program Director Nadia Hussain. “They’ve eliminated a major voting barrier on campus that will positively impact nearly 9,000 students. But getting the polling place is just the beginning. The next step is actually getting WCU students to the polls to make sure we maximize student voter turnout not only for this upcoming election but for future elections as well.”