By: Staff Writer Will Rierson
Engaging college students in democracy straddles a fine legal line.
A liberal candidate for student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill campaigned in February on the promise that students would receive extra credit for voting in the 2016 general election, which is illegal.
Wilson Sink’s online platform stated, “We will work with professors and departments to incentivize their classes to register.” In a debate hosted by the UNC Young Democrats and College Republicans, Sink went a step further and promised academic credit to students who voted.
Sink, who lost the election to fellow junior Bradley Opere, may not have known that bribing voters is a Class I Felony under NC General Statute 163-275.
Sink’s story is a window into the broader leftist commitment to enlist North Carolina college students to vote Democrat at any cost, and a Republican backlash that may go too far.
The Minority Issue
In 2010, a Republican poll observer claimed that a Winston-Salem State University professor offered extra credit to his students if they voted in the general election. The university refused to investigate the matter, claiming that the professor’s actions were only illegal if he gave credit for voting for a certain candidate or party.
The poll observer, Ken Raymond, is now the Chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, the local voting authority for WSSU. Raymond’s board has been split over the issue of making the school an early voting site for the past few elections, to the point that the state will now decide all of the early voting locations in the county for 2016.
While Raymond refused to open early voting at WSSU, Forsyth County Democrats advocated more early voting sites in the inner city than the suburbs or outlying rural areas. The Democrats tried to turn out their base in ethnic neighborhoods surrounding the historically black WSSU.
A common talking point among North Carolina Democrats is that Republicans try to suppress the votes of minorities. If that’s true, Forsyth County is an odd case because Ken Raymond is African-American.
More Voting Incentives
Back at UNC, left leaning groups try their best to register new voters on campus. Organizations like Public Interest Research Group, or NC PIRG, and Democracy North Carolina go into classrooms to register students and advocate against what they consider voter suppression. Outside the student union, students can register to vote and get a cupcake or similar treat for doing so.
It isn’t illegal to register voters on campus or incentivize them to do so. In fact, a voter registration volunteer tried to bribe the writer in his residence hall lobby with some Jolly Ranchers (He was already registered, though). The practice encourages democratic involvement, which is good for the country, though liberal bias creeps into voter registration efforts on the college campus.
NC PIRG leaders, who call themselves nonpartisan, have been observed encouraging students to oppose Republican policies and register to vote in the same breath during classroom visits.
A Mess in the Mountains
Students at Appalachian State University are cheering the placement of an early voting site on their campus in 2016 after local Republicans did their best to keep that from happening.
The Republican-controlled Board of Elections in Watauga County removed the polling place at the university student union in the 2014 general election, forcing on-campus students to walk about a mile down a busy street to a county government center. Many saw this as blatant voter suppression.
After much outcry from college students and liberals, the State Board of Elections mandated that the university have an early voting location for 2016. Even still, not everyone is happy. Some claim the student union location is too close to the one on King Street in downtown Boone, a stone’s throw from campus. A rural early voting site was dropped to add the one at ASU.
These are just a few fights in the larger conflict over voting on the college campus in North Carolian. Democrats and their allies will ravenously continue to register students and push young voters toward progressive candidates. Republicans have made a few publicity blunders in trying to counter a surge of new Democrats voters, though they too have the opportunity to get out the student vote in 2016.