UNC Students Ace Competition on Trustworthy Elections

May 9, 2023 by Dan McCue
UNC Students Ace Competition on Trustworthy Elections

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Four student teams from three North Carolina universities recently prevailed where so many others have failed of late — coming up with several “innovative and impactful” and best of all, practicable ideas for how to restore trust in elections.

The three universities were the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which fielded two teams, William Peace University and North Carolina Central University, each a member of North Carolina Campus Engagement, a collaborative network of colleges and universities committed to educating students for civic and social responsibility.

Among the members of the UNC-Chapel Hill team was Austin Cook, a former intern with The Well News.

Joining her in the UNC contingent were Seth Moore, Durga Sreenivasan, Jaleah Taylor, Greer Christy, Lily Monte, Spark and Jerome Roy. 

The students from William Peace University were Vivian Camplin, Mackenzie Kirk, Seamus Ruiz and Christopher Simmering. North Carolina Central University was represented by Mia Saber, Rhasha Barnes, Jeremiah Vaughn and Malik Gordon.

The setting for the brainstorming was the inaugural Redesigning Democracy Competition, facilitated by members of the Braver Angels Alliance of Central North Carolina.

As previously reported by The Well News, Braver Angels was founded during the 2016 election cycle by citizens who dedicated themselves to working to depolarize public discourse and find new ways to talk about and participate in issues and events that impact public life.

Much of the event, which was hosted on the campus of William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a deep dive into the electoral process and voters’ growing distrust in election outcomes.

Braver Angels’ core methodology is something it calls the “Common Ground Workshop,” gatherings in which it brings together individuals from across the political spectrum to hear each other out, come to understand their disagreements, and ultimately, identify any shared values and common ground they can find.

Braver Angels has held such events all over the country, even on Capitol Hill, but this was the first event to focus solely on university students, with the workshop alone lasting more than four hours.

Afterward, each campus team had an hour and 15 minutes to develop a presentation proposing their idea for how to address the issue of trust in elections. 

Among the students’ ideas: creating a “clear intent” ballot curing policy; limiting corporate political involvement; promoting more civic education in middle and high school; and getting the government behind election engagement by having it fund, in a nonpartisan way, nationwide voter education and registration drives the week after the Fourth of July, when many Americans are at their most patriotic.

A panel of judges from the Braver Angels Alliance of Central North Carolina scored the presentations and selected two teams to win the top prizes (a $500 cash prize to the campus and $100 Amazon gift cards for each student team member). 

The other two teams will receive a $150 cash prize plus $10 Amazon gift cards for each team member. 

Funding was provided by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians.

The collective $650 in prize money that UNC students won will be used over the next year to support similar civic and election engagement efforts on UNC’s campus.

“I was extremely impressed with all of the participants,” said Laura Gilliom, a co-chair for the Braver Angels Alliance of Central North Carolina and one of the moderators of the event.

“They were very knowledgeable about elections (most were political science majors) and engaged enthusiastically with the exercises and with each other,” Gilliom said in an email to The Well News. 

“They seemed less politically polarized than many older adults we have worked with, which is heartening. They were able to find a great deal of common ground on how to achieve both election security AND voter access. Spending the day with them gave me hope for the future of our country,” she said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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