These North Carolina College Students Voted With Abortion Rights Top of Mind

Environmental justice, education, labor issues, and voting rights also motivated Charlotte-area college students to vote in the 2022 midterm elections.

Published November 9, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
These North Carolina College Students Voted With Abortion Rights Top of Mind
Student Voting
Photo by Evan Castillo

  • BestColleges was on campus at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Davidson College on Election Day 2022.
  • Many students told BestColleges that reproductive rights were a top priority issue for them.
  • Both North Carolina colleges made big efforts to help their students register to vote and cast their ballots.

Hours before the polls opened on Election Day, University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) graduate student Erika Fager tossed and turned in her bed.

How was she going to vote before her classes?

Then it hit her — she could avoid the lines if she went now. There was a polling place open at 6:30 a.m. at a nearby school.

"I was shocked, but I was literally up," said Fager, who is pursuing a master's in counseling. "It was pretty chill, and I feel like I didn't have to wait very long. Everyone there was very nice."

But she couldn't have voted Tuesday morning if not for the UNC Charlotte students who got her to register — with the promise of pizza — days before.

BestColleges was on campus on Election Day at UNC Charlotte and at Davidson College, 21 miles north, to talk with North Carolina students about the candidates and issues driving them to vote.

Here's what they told us.

Abortion Rights a Top Issue for Students

On Election Day, UNC Charlotte students Ben Hewitt, Erin Shibley, and Lydia Knier sat outside the campus library near the school's polling place.

All three are North Carolina natives, and all three told BestColleges they voted — though only Shibley voted in Charlotte's Mecklenburg County, where their school is located. They emphasized the importance of reproductive rights.

Hewitt, a senior English major, said he prioritizes civil rights policies like reproductive rights, rights for people of all races, police reform, and environmental justice. Another issue he emphasized was labor rights and union support.

"I want to vote for people who actually care about workers," Hewitt said. "I mainly looked at platforms of people and their voting histories, voting records, things like that. I used a lot of Ballotpedia, a website, and it's pretty good to get at least the overlying. Then you can go look into more of their exact policy issues."

On Davidson College's campus, BestCollege spoke with students who also emphasized the importance of abortion rights in their Election Day decisions.

Lilliana Sandoval, a senior environmental studies major from Davidson, said her main reasons for voting in the midterms were reproductive rights and gender inclusivity in education.

"Some people who are of older age or generation did not believe in the programs that schools have had for more gender inclusivity. … It is important for schools to be inclusive of different topics so that there can be more inclusivity, not just in the school system, but for the future of those students," she said.

Out-of-State Students Cast Absentee Ballots

BestColleges also spoke with out-of-state students studying in North Carolina who cast absentee ballots in their home states.

Genna Barge — a sophomore from Davidson College — said that although she was encouraged to register in North Carolina, she decided to submit an absentee ballot for her home state of Pennsylvania.

Barge, a queer-identifying woman, said her biggest concerns heading into the election were basic human rights issues, reproductive rights, and gun control.

"Right now, Pennsylvania is just at more of a risk," Barge told BestColleges, referencing those issues. "I'm concerned about making sure that everyone is allowed to express themselves in the way they want, that everyone is safe, and that people have the rights that they deserve to have."

Barge also said the state of the economy was another issue to consider, but other matters take precedence.

"If we can't guarantee people the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees them and that society and a democracy provides them with, then we shouldn't be worried about the economy," she said.

Sallie Shutz, another Davidson student, said she decided to vote in her home state of Georgia for this election.

When choosing candidates, economic mobility and voting rights were top priorities for her and her state, she said.

"That was one big factor for me — keeping elections easy and free for everybody," she said.

How Did UNC Charlotte and Davidson Rock the Vote?

UNC Charlotte and Davidson College ensured that students could get out and vote — either during early voting or on Election Day — through official school and student-led events.

According to Mallorie Haines, a sophomore biology major from Davidson, sports teams did not have practice on Election Day — instead encouraging students to get out to vote.

Throughout the election season, the Center for Political Engagement, a nonpartisan student-run organization at Davidson, helped students register to vote, engaged students in social settings, provided shuttles to and from voting locations, and hosted Election Day watch parties.

At UNC Charlotte, transit services were free for all students on Election Day, according to the university's Instagram story.

Students — past and present — also did what they could to encourage voter participation on campus.

Maria Ayala, a recent UNC Charlotte graduate, set up her fourth and final table of the new voters project for the The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group (NCPIRG) Campus Action. Ayala said the student-led nonprofit reached about 400 UNC Charlotte students with stickers, conversations, and voter guides.

"I think that's really helped people to just get out to vote because it's so convenient," said Ayala. "I feel like the culture of civic engagement is really growing on campus to where students are realizing, 'A lot of people are doing it, so maybe it's something that's important and that I should do.'"

Ayala said NCPIRG Campus Action had been trying to remind students to vote. She said even though midterm elections get less attention and turnout, they affect locals more directly than the presidential election.

Fager, who woke up extra early on Election Day, said she could vote before class because of free pizza from a table like Ayala's.

She said UNC Charlotte did not have any voting advocacy targeted toward graduate students, but on-campus organizations offered easy voter registration and encouraged voting practices.

A few days before Election Day, Fager said she was going to the gym when she spotted free pizza. When she got to the table, student volunteers asked if she was registered to vote. She had to leave for the gym but said she'd be back in an hour to register. However, the people at the booth were skeptical.

"We didn't think you'd come back," the volunteers told her.

Fager proved them wrong and did register to vote – they just didn't give her what they promised.

"So I did all that — they didn't give me any pizza," said Fager. "So that was tough, but because of them and their temptation of pizza, I registered to vote."