October 2, 2015

Student Groups Cross Party Lines to Encourage Voter Registration

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Students from several clubs are coming together to encourage their peers to participate in the 2016 elections by setting up voter registration tables in Ho Plaza, Mann Library and Willard Straight Hall.

The students manning the tables, representing organizations like the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Big Red for Bernie, Black Students United, Cornell Democrats and Watermargin Cooperative, say they have already registered more than 500 Cornellians. They plan to continue their efforts until Oct. 9 — the New York state deadline to register to vote in a primary.

Catherine Wang ’15 described the movement to promote civic engagement as a non-partisan effort which has its roots in larger Ithaca community projects. The movement came to Cornell’s campus after a successful Bernie Sanders interest meeting, according to Wang.

“This project started when I went on Bernie Sanders’ website and I went to one of the voter registration events,” Wang said. “I got connected with Justin Cray and with him and other volunteers, we set up interest meetings, and now, we’re just trying to promote [registering voters.]”

The group said their registration efforts stem from a desire to spread their love of politics to others and help interested students participate in elections.

“This began largely as a grassroots effort of students who saw a need for voter registration on-campus,” Lucy Stockton ’17 said. “Now, it’s subsequently being sponsored by [the aforementioned] groups.”

Stockton said she believes that many people would like to get involved in the elections, but might not know where or how to start because the information is not readily available.

“A tremendous amount of our education up until the present is geared towards becoming productive members of society, but far less attention is given to the processes of civic engagement that help us become constructive and active citizens,” Stockton said.

Hannah George ’16 also said she believes it is difficult for students to get involved in the system because it is “set up poorly.”

“Just figuring out how to submit an absentee vote is really challenging,” George said. “How can we expect the average person who is busy with all of the other things going on in their life to be involved in following politics?”

The new voter registration tables were designed to help alleviate the confusion surrounding registration, according to Wang. Students working the table help fill out the registration forms and even mail it out to the government, so signing up is painless.

The aims of the project are simple and transparent: to increase the number of Cornell students voting in national elections.

“We are trying to get people registered to vote,” George said. “We don’t care what their party affiliation is — we just want young people to be involved in politics and understand that their vote has an impact.”

Wang said she believes Cornell students are “passionate about their civic duty.” Through increased student voting, Cornellians will be able to realize the changes they want to see in issues relevant to them, such as student debt and healthcare.

“Our goal is to get young people motivated to participate in the political process,” Wang said. “When we don’t participate, we’re essentially giving up our rights, and we’re telling the people who are voting that [they] can have whatever [they] want, because our voices are not going to get heard.”

After Oct. 9, the deadline New Yorkers to register for next year’s primary will have passed, but the movement will continue on, according to Wang.

“We’re probably going to continue doing this project [to register voters from states other than New York,]” Wang said. “We also want to educate people about the different [nominees’] political campaigns.”

As this is a newly emerging project, its future is not yet certain, but members are hopeful that their unique addition to the campus political scene will continue to gain momentum.