The opening of early voting in North Carolina also marks the launch of a new civics initiative in North Carolina high schools — including East Bladen and West Bladen — First Vote NC.
Partnering with EdNC, Carolina K-12, and the NC Department of Public Instruction, First Vote NC (formerly Kids Voting NC) works with educators to get their students involved, engaged, and ready to participate in American democracy. The core elements include an online voter platform, project-based lesson plans; free enrollment in Turbo Vote; an exit poll survey, and a data analysis forum.
More than 200 high schools in 85 North Carolina counties have registered to be part of the new initiative.
Students in civics classes will become the Board of Elections for their high schools and implement a simulation election for their peers. Teachers will engage students with lessons that use current court cases and headlines to discuss voter laws, soundbite politics, party affiliation, and much more.
Research, polling and election data suggest that young people, at unprecedented levels, feel disengaged from their government. According to a 2015 poll of 4,000 young Americans, only 11% said they would ever consider running for office and the 2014 youth voter turnout was a dismal 19.9% – the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded in a federal election. In local elections, that number often drops to less than 1%.
“When you teach kids to drive, everyone agrees that putting them behind the wheel is an important part of the process. The same can be said for voting and civic engagement,” said Hunter Buxton, Executive Director of First Vote.
Student’s ballots will almost look exactly the same as their adult counterparts, with the exception that student ballots will include questions that the general election will not. A group of 150 4-H student leaders conceived two issue-based questions for the statewide ballot and students at each high school will put their own stamp on their ballot by including an issue-oriented question of their own.
Attached to the ballot is an exit poll that asks ten demographic and civic engagement questions. This data, along with election results, will provide a springboard for a critical thinking, post- election analysis experience. Does where you get your news affect how you vote? Do more girls vote than boys and does that change the candidates they select? What correlation is there between your parents voting and your likelihood to vote? Who is more optimistic about the future- rural or urban teenagers?
This election is not just about presidential politics, voters in North Carolina will consider 1,700 other names on ballots across the state — elections that will shape the future of our communities, state and nation. First Vote NC hopes to demystify the voting process and impress upon young people that the first step towards solving the myriad challenges their generation will face is to become knowledgeable and engaged participants in the civic life of our country.