Catawba students want votes to count

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
If voter turnout at Catawba College for homecoming court nominations is any indication of young people’s interest in the democratic process, things might not be looking up.
Only about 25 percent of sophomores, juniors and seniors cast nomination votes last week, Catawba student Stephanie Hill said.
Usually, the college has about a 55 percent voter turnout for school elections, she said.
Even so, apathy wasn’t apparent at a Catawba event Tuesday that featured a voter registration drive and opportunities to meet local candidates and learn more about the bigger races.
The Rowan County elections director spent almost five minutes convincing Catawba student Lauren Nejberger that her absentee ballot really would be counted.
Nejberger wasn’t so sure.
“I would almost rather go home and vote if I know that’s going to count,” she said.
The 19-year-old said an angry guest speaker in one of her classes said his absentee vote was not counted in the 2000 presidential election.
“That kind of freaked me out,” Nejberger said. “So I’m wary of doing the absentee voting. If I make one mistake, it won’t count.”
Other students seemed just as passionate about making sure their voices are heard in the November election.
Nineteen-year-old Travis Williams said he will go home to Mocksville to cast his vote.
And he wants to be sure he will make sound decisions when he does.
Williams, a registered Republican, said he will likely vote for John McCain. But he’s undecided about other races, including the Bev Perdue-Pat McCrory gubernatorial contest.
“I need to educate myself before I start answering these questions,” Williams said.
He said he wants to learn more about local candidates.
“You see signs every day, but don’t really know,” Williams said of campaign advertisements. “If you don’t do your own research, it (doesn’t) do a lot of good to me.”
Some local candidates and GOP and Democratic representatives were at the event Tuesday to talk to students.
Carl Ford, who is vying for a seat on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said he spoke with about a dozen students.
“You never know when you’re going to get a vote or two,” Ford said. “Every vote’s important.”
By about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, 12 people had registered to vote in Rowan County, said Nancy Evans, elections director.
Another eight people had registered to vote in other counties, she said.
Jim Sides, an incumbent commissioner who is trying to keep his seat, said statistics show older people are more likely to vote than younger people.
He was happy the college organized the event.
“I think it’s great to have young people get involved in politics,” Sides said.
Young people also had the chance to get their picture taken with life-size cardboard cutouts of McCain and running mate Sarah Palin.
Almost 50 students took advantage of the opportunity, said Melissa Eller, who volunteered at the event for the Rowan County GOP and Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
Eller said she hopes Catawba will have such an event before every election.
“A lot of (students) have a lot of good questions,” she said.
Andrew Tamer, a 21-year-old junior at Catawba, said he will vote in November. And he’s obviously looking beyond the basics when it comes to voter issues.
Tamer said he and his best friend had a discussion Monday night about lawmakers’ failed plan to bail out the country’s financial market, and how it will affect the election.
“It’s made me lean more toward Obama right now,” he said.
As for Nejberger, her worries about absentee voting won out. She decided she will cast her vote for McCain during early voting, or she will ask her mother to take her to Charlotte on Election Day.
Evans said absentee votes are counted just like regular votes. Voters need to be sure they fill out the paper work properly, she said.
Nineteen-year-old Catawba student Tyon Bennett said he will be sure to cast his ballot in the upcoming election. But who will get his vote for president?
“I can’t tell you that,” he said.
For information on voter registration, absentee ballots and other voting details, visit the Rowan County Board of Elections at 130 W. Innes St. or call 704-216-8140.
The deadline to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 10. Early voting begins Oct. 16.