A bit after 5 a.m. last Thursday morning, I thumbed through the pages of judicial candidates listed in a local voter guide. As I sat in the back of a bus headed toward Chapel Hill, news of the presidential election buzzing in the background, I felt a moment of gratitude and empowerment that we’re able to influence the direction of our government at the ballot box. The election is just around the corner and it brings choices beyond just the attention-getting presidential race.
Our votes will determine who holds office locally, across our state and nationally. In addition to the presidential candidates, our ballots will include candidates for U.S. and North Carolina senators and representatives, North Carolina’s governor and Council of State positions, various North Carolina court judges and a mix of county leaders.
Our votes will impact how decisions on K-12 and higher education are made. Our choices at the ballot box will influence how healthcare is regulated, how taxes are set and how public benefits are provided. Our voice in this election will affect the criminal justice system and efforts to expand equal opportunity to all.
With these issues on the line, we cannot pass up the opportunity to get informed and get out to vote. For many of us, this will be the first election we’re old enough to vote in. While the process might seem daunting at first, we have multiple options to cast our votes this year in North Carolina.
Early voting runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5 and we will have an early voting site on campus in Highsmith 104. This early voting site, along with the others throughout Buncombe County, are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and on portions of weekends as well.
Any person registered to vote in a county can vote at any of that county’s early voting sites. If you are not registered to vote, you can also register and vote at the same time during early voting as long as you provide a form of identification with your name and current address such as driver’s license or a utility bill in your name.
You can also request an absentee ballot and vote by mail. You simply fill out the absentee ballot request form and ensure that your county board of elections receives it by no later than Nov. 1. You will receive your ballot and return envelope, complete with instructions, which will allow you to vote by mail if you are unable to do so in person.
Finally, polls across the state will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8. You must vote at your assigned precinct on election day, so be sure to plan ahead. You can find your precinct, confirm your registration, view your sample ballot, access the absentee ballot request form, get details on early voting and find many other resources at the State Board of Elections website, ncsbe.gov.
A photo ID is no longer required to vote in North Carolina due to a recent court ruling. Still, it is a good idea to bring a form of identification with your name and current address, as election staff may request it in case there was any difficulty confirming your registration. If you are an out-of-state student hoping to vote back home, you can get assistance in doing so from your home county or state elections office.
Turning out and casting our votes is one of the many ways we can have a direct impact on our government, our communities and our fellow citizens. Though our system has its flaws, participating and making our voices, passions and concerns heard is better than leaving it all up to others.
So in the next few weeks make plans to vote and take some time to sit down and research the candidates on your ballot. On Nov. 9, I know I’d rather not find myself thinking, “Should I have voted?”