First Vote NC

First Vote NC is EducationNC’s online, simulated election experience for high school students so that they graduate civic ready.

Our Mission

First Vote seeks to create a more informed, participatory, and robust citizenship by providing North Carolina’s high school students with an authentic, consistent, and relevant civics experience.

Our History

First Vote began as Kids Voting NC, which was established 20 years ago through an appropriation from the NC General Assembly to fund programs in 25 counties. In 2016, Kids Voting NC developed a new model to reimagine and reenergize their efforts, focusing on preparing high school students for civic life. With that transformation, the organization changed its name to First Vote NC and moved to a statewide model. The new model debuted during the 2016 national election cycle with a new platform built by EducationNC. In 2017, First Vote NC became fully incorporated into EducationNC.

What We Do

First Vote NC is an initiative that teaches high school students across North Carolina the mechanics of voting by giving them the opportunity to participate in an online, simulated election, authentic down to the customized ballot based on the address of the student’s school and the “I VOTED” sticker. The First Vote NC voting simulation is 21st century experiential learning at its finest.

First Vote offers North Carolina students and educators an innovative, first-in-class, web-based platform incorporating the best practices described above, creating an opportunity for the state’s young people to engage in the democratic process before they turn 18. First Vote’s simulations of local, state, and national elections enable students to learn about the mechanics of how, when, and where to vote; to discuss the election; and to actually simulate the act of voting. While the tool is designed with the educator in mind, our ultimate audience is high school students — North Carolina’s future voters. Through First Vote, we seek to improve youth voter turnout by demystifying the voting process and making it a habit even before students graduate from high school.

First Vote NC offers a comprehensive civics experience that uses the tools of the 21st century to engage the next generation of voters. Our multi-layered approach includes an authentic simulation election, issue-based questions, demographic data collection for post-election analysis, a lesson portfolio, and a private online discussion platform for teachers.

Below is a brief description of each aspect of the program.

Online Platform Ballot

EducationNC has developed a web-based platform that allows each school to access a customized ballot. For local, state, and national elections, every high school in the state that opts to participate receives a ballot that reflects the precinct of the school. That ballot looks identical to the one a student would receive if they were going to the polls. The First Vote polls are open for early voting in step with the “real” election and close at the end of election day. Students come to school the next day to see how their vote compared to the general election. The only aspect of the First Vote election that does not reflect the broader election is that we allow students to use laptops, school computers, phones, or tablets to vote. This feature makes the process considerably easier for schools and students to take part.

Issue-Based Questions

To further engage students, First Vote works to create issue-based questions that are attached to the ballot. In past elections, students from 4-H leadership teams and the NC School Board Association helped First Vote create questions that were relevant to students and informed policy makers. In post-election discussions, students go beyond election result comparisons with their peers across the state to discuss how their perspectives on issues compare as well. This is meant to encourage students to discuss the role of government on topics such as parks, climate change, class size, and technology. This data can also be used by the academic and policy community to provide a reference point on the next generation’s attitudes and perceptions.

Demographic Data

The last section of the voting experience is a short demographic questionnaire. This information enables First Vote to present the election results and issue-based questions in greater context. Once again, First Vote seeks to lead students to a deeper discussion about what role things like gender, geography, and how you access information influences your view and your vote.

Discussion Platform

First Vote has teamed up with the NC-based company Participate to develop a private, online discussion group for participating First Vote teachers. This resource is provided free of charge to any teacher who signs up, as with all of the First Vote initiative. Teachers can peruse the lesson plan portfolio, check out links to other civics groups and information, and most importantly, share with one another best practices, questions, and discovered resources. The platform extends to private Twitter chats as well.

Lesson Portfolio

First Vote has developed eight lesson plans to include in a portfolio on the Participate site. They include:

  1. How to conduct a schoolwide election
  2. How to vote and why it matters
  3. National, state, and local elections – what’s the difference?
  4. Local elections
  5. Political parties and ideology
  6. The role of media in elections
  7. The role of money in elections
  8. Using the First Vote NC results
  9. 2018 mini-lesson plan: Constitutional amendments on the November ballot

Here is a link to a page with all the lesson plans

While there is an abundance of lesson plans that can be found while searching online, there are several elements that make First Vote’s distinct: they are aligned with NC standards, offered free of charge, and designed to be relevant, active, and manageable.

What Educators Think

Educators used the First Vote NC platform to lead their students through simulations in the 2016 presidential, 2017 municipal, and 2018 mid-term elections. More than 32,000 students from 76 high schools in 46 counties across the state voted in the 2016 election simulation. More than 5,300 high school students from 47 schools in 33 counties participated in the 2017 local election simulation. More than 13,700 students from 65 high schools in 34 counties participated in the 2018 mid-term election simulation.

More than 98% of teachers said they would recommend First Vote to their colleagues.


Mebane Rash is the CEO of EducationNC. Mebane is trusted for her nonpartisan policy analysis and bipartisan work on the most important issues facing our state for more than 25 years.

Nancy Rose, EducationNC COO, has 35 years of experience working in the nonpartisan public policy space, leading operations, finance, and technology.

Partner Organizations

EducationNC partners with the Illinois-based Center for Technology and Civic Life to provide election data to create the customized ballots. First Vote also works with the NC Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Elections,  individual schools and districts, and the technology company Participate. First Vote has also developed relationships with the Institute of Politics at UNC-Chapel Hill, where a trained group of college students go to local high schools and utilize the How to Vote and Why It Matters lesson plan. Partner organizations like NC 4-H and the NC School Board Association provide outreach in their local communities to high schools teachers and district education leaders. We continue to look for more ways to partner with nonpartisan organizations that can help further our mission.

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