In December, a News & Observer headline spread across social media: “North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy.” The article by Dr. Andrew Reynolds, a professor of political science at UNC, described how NC is no longer a functional democracy. Despite the controversial article, Reynolds still believes that young adults can effect change in our state.
Reynolds’s article detailed a metric he and his colleague, Jorgen Elklit, used to measure election quality.
The metric evaluated the election quality of states and countries. Reynolds and Elklit looked at characteristics such as the number of registered voters, access for voters and the trustworthiness of the vote count.
NC received a 58 out of 100 for its overall electoral integrity score in the 2016 election. Because NC received the same score as countries like Cuba and Sierra Leone, many NC citizens dismissed these claims.
Reynolds explained that states and countries can score at the same level but vary in their vibrancy of democracy. For example, Cuba is embedded in an authoritarian framework while NC is in a democratic framework.
Still, the score shocked many NC citizens, leaving them to question their state and how well they are represented. Jamie Schendt, a social studies teacher at CHS, commented on this general distrust of governmental institutions.
“Part of that distrust stems from a lack of understanding from the populous about what the systems are because this whole idea about dissatisfaction and distrust is actually a bipartisan claim at the moment,” said Schendt.
Like Schendt, Reynolds encourages NC citizens to speak out against their systems.
“We need to not be complacent in that we know things are going wrong, but we’re still in a world where we think American democracy is invulnerable, and that it’s always going to be fine,” said Reynolds regarding the metric’s implications.
For the majority of high school and middle school students who cannot vote, this unconstitutionality raises the question of what they can do to institute change.
When asked this question, Reynolds said that he found a lot of change was driven by creating and emphasizing connections between people.
“People do change their views when they are confronted with somebody they care about, or know, or respect, challenging them,” said Reynolds. “High school kids can make a difference just by talking and communicating and by contacting their representatives. But also talking to the people around you who do vote who may be voting in ways that you find objectionable.”
Reynolds and his colleagues found that people generally voted for same-sex marriage if they personally knew someone who was gay.
“If 70 percent of people say that they have a close friend or family member who is gay, 70 percent of people said they support marriage equality,” said Reynolds.
NC has ranked poorly in election quality, but Reynolds emphasized that young adults still have a voice, and they can still drive change in their state.