WCU hosts voting law discussion

Discussion on new voting law draw crowd of students and local community. Photo:WCJ

The new North Carolina voting laws and what possible effects it might have on the election process were discussed during the panel organizer by the WCU Political Science Department (PSD) marking the celebration of the Constitution Day.

The room was packed with students and local people wanting to hear what will happen on the elections in 2016 when the law is implemented. Todd Collins, director of Public Policy Institute and associate professor in PSD, served as the moderator. Dr. Chris Cooper, Political Science Department Head at WCU, Zeb Smathers, from nonprofit Democrat North Carolina, and Kory Swanson, Executive Vice President of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, were the panelists.

Dr. Cooper gave an overview on some of the main changes that the new election laws bring to NC. He talked on the ID requirement; the elimination of preregistration for minors; the elimination of same day registration; the elimination of straight-ticket voting, and the paper ballot requirement.

According to Cooper, the political research shows that majority of people in U.S. do support Voter ID’s, this is more prevalent among republicans but Democrats as well. He said that in NC 66 % of the population support the idea of having voter ID. He also pointed out that North Carolina was one of only 10 states that did not already have this implemented.

Although there is not much evidence of fraud in any state, it seems both sides can agree that it is standard to have an ID. People of lower income and elderly would be most affected by this requirement, which could reduce their turnout at the polls up to 2.5%.

“Minorities are less likely than whites to have an ID, as well as to report lack of ID as a reason for not voting. At the same time they are more often asked to show it,” said Cooper.

Dr. Cooper closed by saying that what North Carolina is doing is not something that other states haven’t done before, but added that the rate of the change is very rapid. He also stated that he believed these changes will slightly decrease voter turnout.

Kory Swanson, vice president of the John Lock Foundation, made it clear that in his opinion, this bill was not created to be a voter suppression law. He pointed out that even with the new changes, NC still has some of the most liberal voting laws in the country.

Swanson gave his statistics that NC is joining the majority of other states with similar voting laws. NC is now the 46th state to disallow preregistration for teens and the 28th to require paper ballots.  Only 14 other states do allow straight-ticket voting and Ohio is the only remaining state to allow same day registration during early voting.

“This bill brings us closer in line with the rest of the country,” Swanson said.

Zeb Smathers questioned why the new changes were necessary if the previous provisions were working fine.  He stated that 56% of NC voters, Republican and Democrats, used the early voting which is now cut to 10 days from previous 17, although as Cooper and Swanson mentioned that the amount of hours is the same. Smathers was even more concerned with who exactly these changes would affect the most. He said that 34% of African Americans use same-day registration, which is cut with the new law and  they use straight-ticket voting 50% more than whites.  Now both of these options are excluded. Smathers believes that the new ID requirement is designed to make it harder for minorities, women, and students to vote (Student ID is not acceptable card).

“Why create more hoops to jump through? We should be expanding the process and making it easier,” Smathers said.

Although Smathers does not support the new election laws when it comes to the voting changes, he doesn’t believe these are the most important changes.  He is most concerned with the way money effects elections.

“You cannot win in politics without money. If you don’t believe that, your political education is just beginning,” he told the audience.

The new laws allow more money to be donated to a candidate in the election campaigns, while less disclosure is required. This allows messages to be sent by each party without the politicians be required to back what they say (‘I approve this message’).  Smathers believes this is such an important issue because it helps the people with money. The people with money will be elected, and then that affects everyone.

Smathers closed by asking these questions.

“Why do we have to do what everyone else is doing? What happened to wanting to be better?”

The discussion was ended with a question and comments from the audience.

Students seemed to benefit from the discussion, even if they were only there for extra credit.

“I thought it was a very worthwhile. There’s a lot of misinformation about the bill going around and this helped clear a lot of that up,” said Josh Pugh, a WCU junior.

You can find the new law here.



WCU Student Government Association gets new leadership

The results are in. Ryan Hermance, last year’s Student Government Association vice president, will be WCU’s new SGA president.

According to preliminary results, 1,482 WCU students (15 percent) voted online or on campus for student body president, vice president and senate on April 8 and 9. The turnout surpassed last year’s 1,300 student votes, with sophomores leading the charge in this election cycle.

Hermence promises to lower tuition, promote SGA advocacy, and keep school safety “at A+ form.”

“My first priority is to keep tuition and fees as low as possible,” said Hermance. “I plan on going to the tuition and fees administration, find out what students want to keep increase as low as possible and make sure the rise goes to where students want.”

Following several recent reports of incidents of assault and attempted robbery on the WCU campus, as reported to the student body by university police via email, Hermance noted that campus safety is one of his concerns.

“As far as the rise on campus violence, generally senators write resolutions for more lighting in dark areas, blue lights,” Hermance said. “I am going to urge administration, the police department, and do master planning about what the school wants to see in the next five years.”

“The election process was very well-organized and put together,” said WCU student Darryl McIntyre, a first-time voter. “After voting it felt like I made a difference.”

To run for president or vice president, students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA and 2.5 for the semester. They must hold a position in the senate for at least 2 semesters before running for president or vice president. Senators must have a 2.75 cumulative GPA. All candidates are required to answer a series of essay questions and apply at the SGA office.

Jack Stuart came out with a win over vice-presidential candidates Alex Wright and Daniel Riddell.

This year, candidates running for a seat in the senate were voted upon in a large group, something new that the elections committee is doing to make the process easier. Those who received the most votes then chose their own duties as senators.

Over 30 student candidates were up for a seat in the senate, with five freshmen emerging as winners.

The offices of SGA president, vice president and senate are all paid positions. See the full SGA budget here.

WCU students: “Why I voted”

Hear what students at Western Carolina University say about why they voted in the 2012 presidential election and how they think President Barack Obama’s re-election will affect them.

Shot by Anthony Bouthillette, Heath Brown, Jenna Englert, Tanner Morris, Pratana Muong, Sherry Rigby, Janson Silvers, Michael Smith, and Jarrett Wilson.  Reporters: Alisha Lambert, Ariel Rymer, Rebbeca Ziglar, and Marquis Emmerson. Edited by Ben Haines. Special thanks to Gabe Nucci.

This story was produced with assistance from the WCU Citizenship and Civility Committee.

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Election Day 2012 in North Carolina
Strong turnout in Cullowhee precinct

Strong turnout in Cullowhee precinct

Today is the day that determines the next four years for our country’s government. The polls of Jackson County have been open since 6:30 a.m. this morning having students, teachers, residents, etc. of the Cullowhee precinct voting.

Outside the recreational center are democrats and republicans helping campaign for each side. First Vice Chairman of the Jackson County GOP, Jim Mueller was out in front hoping to talk to people about their vote.

“We are hoping we’ll hit 1,000 [voters]. At 10 o’clock, we had 214,” said Chief of Justice Robert Shelton on the projected number of people to come in and vote.

At noon there were over 400 people that voted.

Cullowhee precinct has over 6,000 voters this election, and 2,068 voted early according to Shelton.

Volunteer, Jessica Green, helps first time voter. Photo by: Marysa Burchett

Mindy Mudge, a volunteer at the precinct, said she has seen a good turn out and expects to see more voters as the day goes on and people are able to come.

The first voting shuttle van that was giving rides for students to the rec center from the University Center arrived around 9:45 a.m. and dropped off three students. As the shuttle kept coming approximately every 20 minutes, the number of students stayed steady with student voters.  The shuttle will run until 7 p.m.

“I’m doing it (driving) because it is something that needs to be done,” said Kaleb Ticknor, a volunteer shuttle van driver and the head of the Honors College Voter Initiative.

During the ride, he explained the process of voting. “It is an electronic panel to vote. The first one that is up is the president and then you have option of a straight ticket. If you vote for a straight ticket, that does not vote for president.” The straight ticket allows you to vote on the rest of the ballot as Democratic, Republican or Libertarian.

Those that did not vote early and came to the rec center instead were very hesitant to talk about their choices. When asked how they felt after they voted and many were indifferent or impartial. One student said it felt like an accomplishment, getting it done.

Voters in the gym of Jackson County Rec Center. Photo by: Marysa Burchett

“I voted for Romney because of three things: Obama is for abortion, not with Israel and for gay marriage. I didn’t vote for local people and left it blank because I didn’t know who they were,” said Josh Davis, a WCU senior.

Roderick Wilson would not disclose whom he voted for but is excited to hear the results.

Michael To is a campus organizer from Cleveland, Ohio who works for North Carolina Public Interest Research Group(NCPIRG), which has a partnership with the Center for Service Learning. His job is to make sure that students get registered and then out to vote. He joined Ticknor every so often making his way through the rec center and back to the UC to assure students are voting.

Revving up for Election Day

American and North Carolina state flags outside the Jackson County Justice Center. Photo by Ben Haines.

Tomorrow is finally the day.

After a contentious campaign season marked by a whirlwind of advertising and controversy, the 2012 United States presidential election is this Tuesday, Nov. 6.

A CNN national poll released today shows a statistical dead heat between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

WCU’s CatTran shuttle service will transport voters to the Jackson County Recreation Center, Cullowhee’s polling location. The shuttles will collect passengers at the CatTran stop behind the A.K. Hinds University Center on Memorial Drive and will run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

As of Oct. 30, there are 27,847 registered voters in Jackson County. Of those, 11,290 are registered Democrats, 9,370 are unaffiliated, 7,101 are Republicans, and 86 are registered as Libertarians.

Women outnumber men among registered Jackson County voters, 14,241 to 12,296.

Early voting in North Carolina ran from Oct. 18 to Nov. 3. According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, 9,056 Jackson County voters cast early ballots this year, a 10 percent decrease from the county’s early voting numbers in 2008.

Carolina Public Press: WNC early voters fail to surpass 2008 level

If you’re registered to vote, make your voice heard tomorrow.

Voter Registration Day makes voting count

(Story was updated on Sept. 26, 2012)

Success could define the National Voter Registration Day that was held on Tuesday, Sept. 25 on the UC lawn.

The students had a chance to meet some of the candidates running for office, register to vote in November and channel their inner child on several carnival-style inflatables.

Photos and slideshow by Jamie North

Hayden Rogers, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, paid a visit to WCU to promote his election platform.

“I think it’s important to get people involved in voting, especially younger people,” said Rogers. “These political decisions nowadays are really starting to affect them. Youth are the least involved in voting, and it’s important for them to vote.”

Rogers’ message for his campaign reflects on the ideals of George Washington. “This political divide between countries is killing us,” said Rogers. “It is time for America to unite and combine our good ideas and face our serious challenges.”

Other candidates at the event included Rogers’ Republican opponent, Mark Meadows; Jim Davis (R), Marty Jones (R), Joe Sam Queen (D), and John Snow (D).

Student involvement was vital to the success of this event.

Groups that volunteered their time and energy included: Student Affairs, UC staff, Honors College, Public Policy Institute, College Republicans, College Democrats, Political Science Club, NCPIRG, and the Center for Service Learning.

Michael Tell, a voter registration student-volunteer, has been involved in politics around campus for some time.

“I’m getting really politically involved,” said Tell. “In our last presidential election, the North Carolina vote was decided by less than one percent, which shows students are important to the polls. There are groups like College Democrats, Alpha Pi and others trying to get students involved.”

Dylan Bowen, a freshman at WCU, joined the College Republicans right away due to his political drive.

“I tried to get involved with the Romney campaign back home,” said Bowen, “but I can get involved much more here at WCU.”

He also strongly emphasizes the importance of our generation getting involved.

“Regardless of political opinion, it is our civic duty to vote,” said Bowen. “People complain about the government and don’t vote. I think that’s wrong.”

According to Todd Collins, Director of the Public Policy Institute, volunteers registerd a one new voter every two-and-a-half minutes throughout the day.