Western Carolina University had the second-highest rate of student voter turnout for the 2016 general election among North Carolina colleges, according to a study from Common Cause. WCU also was first in a voter engagement competition among Southern Conference universities.
Sarah Gudger and Manuel Gonzalez of Common Cause North Carolina conducted the study to discover which of the state’s nearly 50 colleges and universities had the highest turnout of student voters. To determine this, they pinpointed which precincts aligned with each institution’s voters and calculated the percentage of students voting in each precinct.
At WCU, the addition of an on-campus polling site helped student participation increase 14 percent (to 67 percent), with students, faculty and staff, along with area residents, able to vote in a convenient location. Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning, said he believes that bringing democracy to the students helps foster their sense of civic duty. “You create an environment where voting becomes almost second nature, even if it’s the first time, when you remove barriers from deceptively simple processes and at the same time increase voter confidence through education and awareness efforts,” Perry said.