Students turn out for Voter Registration Day

WCU students register to vote in large numbers on Feb. 23, 2012. Photo: Ben Haines

With a state primary and referendum coming in May and a national election looming in November, Western Carolina University students filed out in droves for Voter Registration Day on Thursday, February 23.

The event ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the A.K. Hinds University Center lawn and included a live student debate.  Hundreds of students registered to vote at booths and drop boxes set up on the lawn and throughout campus.

Democratic candidate Cecil Bothwell of Asheville brought his campaign for the 11th District U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by the outgoing Heath Shuler.  Also in attendance was three-time N.C. state senator Joe Sam Queen of Haywood County, who is running for office in the North Carolina General Assembly’s newly redefined 119th District.

Two prominent issues among students registering to vote were a referendum that would legalize the sale of alcohol in all of Jackson County and a proposed amendment to North Carolina’s state constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Both items will appear on the May 8 ballot.

“I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community,” said Krista Lujan, 21.  She explained that her opposition to the marriage amendment was part of what motivated her to register to vote on Thursday.

Melissa Gispert, 22, echoed that sentiment.  “Equal rights for everyone is something that’s really important to me,” she said.

The Voter Registration Day events were a product of the Cullowhee Voter Initiative, a nonpartisan community movement dedicated to increasing election turnout among young registered voters of Jackson County.  WCU students Seth Crockett and Andy Miller, both 21, co-founded the initiative.

“We want people to get informed, get registered, and then get out and vote,” said Miller.  He spent much of the day traveling around the UC lawn personally encouraging passersby to register.

Crockett spent the bulk of the day minding a registration booth away from the UC lawn with volunteers Peyton Flinchum and Monique Heckler.  Stationed between Balsam and Blue Ridge residence halls, they had 20 registrants at their table by 2 p.m.

Registration booths were also located in the fountain quad area, in the Courtyard Dining Hall, and in the McKee and Coulter academic buildings.

Earlier in the day, students living on-campus found free voter registration forms in their University Center mailboxes, courtesy of the Cullowhee Voter Initiative.  Drop boxes placed in the mailroom allowed students checking their mail to register right then and there.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Miller took the stage on the UC lawn with colleague Jeremiah Mosteller for a live student debate.  A moderator asked the pair questions and they took turns responding to the crowd and then rebutting each other’s answer.  The topics they discussed included abortion, political action committees, and for whom to vote in November’s presidential election.

Though Miller and Mosteller disagreed on every question, they remained cordial throughout the debate and showed clear respect for one another.  One thing they agreed about was the importance of everyone making their voices heard by voting.