You'd expect college kids—especially college kids at N.C. State, which ain't Berkeley—to greet municipal elections with a shrug and then return to their beer bongs. But what if that wasn't the case? What if this year actually was different? How would that affect Raleigh's City Council races?
That's what an organization called the Youth Government Association wants to find out. As part of its efforts, student leaders at local universities and colleges—State, Wake Tech, Meredith College and Shaw University—have been registering students to vote in the Oct. 6 municipal election.
On Thursday afternoon, ahead of the Friday registration deadline, while bands set up along the tent-lined Fayetteville Street for Hopscotch, YGA leaders—along with #savethepatios stalwarts Zack Medford and Kenneth Yowell—took 3,500 voter registration forms to the Board of Elections office on Salisbury Street. (They went in armed with Krispy Kreme donuts and gift cards to Yowell's Oak City Meatball Shop, a peace offering to the poor clerks who will have to input all that new data into the system.)
As of Sept. 1, Raleigh had about 275,000 registered voters, so an additional 3,500 isn't by itself a game changer. But consider this: In 2013, only about 6,400 people voted in District D, which encompasses N.C State. District D rep Kay Crowder has been a reliable vote for the rein-in-nightlife crowd. Her challenger, Ashton Mae Smith, is primarily backed by bar supporters.
If the bar owners successfully rally the kids to their banner, and if those kids actually show up on Election Day, an upset is possible. In all likelihood, 4,000 votes (maybe fewer) wins, even in a district with 52,000 registered voters. Other races could be affected, too.
"Once they realized everything that's going on downtown—the patio curfew, the increased fees on parking—they can tell which way the wind's blowing," says Medford, who himself ran for Council (unsuccessfully) as a 20-year-old State student in 2003. "A lot of them moved to Raleigh specifically because of how vibrant downtown is. This was something that really motivated people. We're at a watershed moment, and that is, Which direction downtown's really going to go?"
It's not just the sidewalk ordinance, either, Medford says. The $5 parking deck fees—set to kick in at year's end, though the city is considering a compromise—will be tough on students, too. Many of them hold part-time jobs in downtown bars and restaurants.
"There could be more nuanced ways to solve these problems, and we need strong leaders who will give them more thoughtful consideration," Medford says.
Of course, all of this hinges on a very big if: that a traditionally apathetic cohort will not just fill out a voter-registration form but show up to vote in a low-profile October election.
Stranger things have happened. But they usually don't.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The kids are all right (if they vote)"
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