Rayna Young has never understood why it can be so challenging to find information on candidates running in local elections, particularly for less visible roles like the register of deeds or supervisors of town departments.
The lack of information, she says, can be confusing for voters, and it may prevent somebody from even bothering to cast a ballot at all.
“A lot of people won’t vote because they don’t know who they’re voting for, what they do, what’s going on,” Young said. “They won’t want to vote incorrectly, especially for nonpartisan offices, because you’re just picking a name sometimes.”
As a high schooler, to help her family navigate those hurdles, Young started reading about all the candidates and the offices they were campaigning for to create a list that her parents could use so they would feel confident in their decisions when they voted.
Young has brought that same approach to Chapel Hill to help other Tar Heels become civically engaged and ready for the mid-term election on Nov. 8. The Carolina senior has been sharing information on elections and local issues as a member of the UNC Civic Engagement Working Group, the director of state and external affairs for Student Government and co-president of Ignite, a student organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting women in politics.
The mission behind all her efforts is simple: Make sure college students use their voices.
“I know it can be really daunting for college students to vote, but it’s really important because, historically, college students and younger people are not likely to vote even though we are the most affected,” she said. “We will have the longest time to be affected by changes that happen.”
Young, who is majoring in political science, launched the UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of Ignite with classmate Maya Nair in 2020 because they wanted to help women interested in entering politics opportunities to connect and gain professional development experiences.
“It’s a space where you can uplift one another, share opportunities and get access to elected officials and the path to running for office,” she said of the nonpartisan organization.
The group is also dedicated to promoting civic engagement across campus with initiatives such as an online ballot workshop that walks voters through the sample ballot for Chapel Hill’s election. The workshop details all the candidates and the functions of the elected office they’re seeking so voters can be better informed.
Ignite will also host a walk to the polls on Oct. 28 for Tar Heels to vote at the closest early voting site at Chapel of the Cross.
“It can be intimidating going to vote by yourself,” Young said. “We’re not telling you who to vote for, but that you should vote. You should make your voice heard.”
Through Young’s work with Ignite and as director of state and external affairs for Student Government, she’s also found herself as an active member of the UNC Civic Engagement Working Group — a student-led group comprised of members from various political and civic engagement organizations across campus.
The multi-partisan space, Young said, helps the organizations reach their goals of building voter engagement on a larger scale.
“It’s a space where people who are doing democracy or social impact or civic-engagement-centered work come together and share their successes, things that are going well and share best practices and promote events,” she said. “Students are the key people who know how to message to the students. I know how to talk to my friends about voting, about the barriers they have to voting and about the questions they have. We are fielding those requests in real-time.”
Young is looking forward to seeing all those efforts pay off on Nov. 8 with Tar Heels casting ballots.
“There are students who are going to vote, and that will ultimately make a difference in the elections,” she said. “It’s about taking it into our own hands. We get to decide what’s going to happen. It’s important to make sure your voice is heard.”