Election day is November 7, about a month away. And we have a problem. Students in Chapel Hill and Carrboro don’t vote in large numbers. There are around 31,000 students at UNC Chapel Hill. That’s about 10,000 more people than live in all of Carrboro. And this election cycle, the overwhelming majority of those students will not vote in the upcoming local municipal elections.
Some of those students want to stay registered where they are from, and that is totally understandable. But many students that would be interested in voting in Chapel Hill are not yet registered to vote, let alone aware there is an election going on.
I want to make this clear at the beginning: our vote matters, especially this year.
Current Chapel Hill Council Member Tai Huynh won his election in 2019 by only 24 votes. He did that largely by canvassing students. If you and all of your friends voted, you changed the outcome of that election. It is now four years later, and students have that power again.
I understand why students don’t engage with issues in local elections. As a student myself, I barely have the time to stay engaged with politics between my class work and other obligations. Furthermore, the issues being discussed are presented in ways that are overly technical and there is a steep learning curve. I don’t have time to go to council meetings or read through plans that are dozens of pages long.
There is a disturbing lack of coverage on local news and local politics, making it even harder for students to find easy-to-understand content that explains what is going on and why these issues matter. I can’t explain every issue that is currently being discussed, but many of the things that students complain about, whether it be the cost of rent, issues with Chapel Hill Transit, or sustainability concerns, are all directly impacted by the policies and decisions of the Town of Chapel Hill.
Let’s take housing, for example. Any student that has tried to live off campus will tell you that the cost of housing in Chapel Hill is out of control. Rent is exorbitantly high, and there are few options to choose from. The reason for the situation is quite simple. There is not enough housing. And there is not enough housing because of the policies put in place over previous decades. Policies have restricted the building of dense, walkable, and sustainable neighborhoods. These policies could be changed if we used our voting power to elect people that want to continue to move our town forward.
As it currently stands, certain populations in Chapel Hill have disproportionate influence over local elections. The candidates they support are not friendly towards proposals to build dense, walkable, and sustainable infrastructure. If we elect a Town Council and Mayor that are friendly towards building better infrastructure and complete communities, we can finally begin to address the long-standing shortage of housing in Chapel Hill. If we build more housing, rent and home prices will decrease; a report by Chapel Hill town staff supports this claim. We know what the solution to this problem is, and there are people running that are willing to take the steps necessary to carry out that solution. It is up to us to elect them.
Election day is November 7th. In one month, we will all have the chance to make a difference for the better in our community. Make a plan to vote and make sure you are registered. Talk to your friends about the election and the issues at stake. Research the candidates. Go to forums. Volunteer for campaigns. And don’t forget to vote.
Andrew Gary is a senior at UNC studying history. He is interested in building climate-resilient communities.