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September 22, 2020

Cornell Votes Hopes to Mobilize Students to the Polls This Election Year

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For Cornellians on the Hill, voting this November may require a bit more planning than a normal election year, and Cornell Votes hopes to ease the process.

The conditions of this election year are unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic, hyper-polarization and on Friday the passing of an indelible voice on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 — have all made the stakes on Nov. 3 increasingly high for both Republicans and Democrats.

The student organization Cornell Votes is working to help students conquer the oftentimes complicated task of registering to vote, as well as providing resources on how and where to cast votes.

For younger generations, the impact of this election may last a lifetime. The next president and Congress likely will get to decide the U.S.’s response to the coming phases of the pandemic, seat future Supreme Court Justices and combat the climate crisis. Given these high stakes, presidential, congressional and local office campaigns are looking to this demographic to tip the scales and turnout this November.

Cornell Votes is a University-wide organization that aims to educate and advocate for voting-age students. Their goal is to have every Cornell student registered to vote and participate every November. The organization is non-partisan and works to provide unbiased and objective resources, helping students make informed voting choices.

In 2018, National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement Campus Reports surveyed voters residing within the borders of Cornell’s Ithaca campus and found that only 33.7 percent of eligible voters voted in the midterm election. This includes both voters registered in New York in other states. Though there is an upward trend of voter registration and voter turnout on campus, Cornell Votes hopes to aid in the increase by making the process more transparent for students.

Voting accessibility also appears to be a priority among Cornell faculty. Within the next few months, many events on the 2020 presidential election, such as webinars and discussion panels, have been scheduled.

The executive board of Cornell Votes spent quarantine transitioning from a fellowship to a student organization, giving each member more independence to create their own workshops and media.

Initially, Cornell Votes was part of the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere movement, a national organization dedicated to turning out college students at the polls, according to Cornell Votes website. Now, Cornell Votes is an independently governed organization at Cornell, receiving funding from the University and the Andrew Goodman Foundation. President Patrick Mehler ’23 said the group focuses on fostering community engagement, building relationships with other organizations across campus and communicating to the student body.

This semester, the bulk of the organization’s engagement will occur through online workshops focused on topics like how to register to vote, how to request an absentee ballot and how to navigate a candidate’s political rhetoric.

“There are just so many challenges to voting that I didn’t even realize until I got to a college campus,” said Tori Healey ’22, the vice president of finances for Cornell Votes. “Helping them overcome those barriers is a big reason I do this.”

Cornell Votes is encouraging students to vote via absentee ballot this year, due to the public health concerns with voting in-person. The organization suggests that anyone voting through an absentee ballot fill out the form and mail it immediately, as postal service delays mount.

Even now, Cornell students from New York State can do this process online: The state launched an online portal where voters can request an absentee ballot, eliminating the need to print, stamp and mail an application to a local county Board of Elections office.

With Election Day only weeks away, Cornell Votes hopes to increase the University’s voter turnout rate and motivate as many students as possible to use their voice.

“Having a forum and a space to empower people and engage them so that they know their rights and they know their civic responsibility … is critical,” said Shruti Kanna ’22, one of the department chairs for Cornell Votes. “I think Cornell Votes is a great space for that.”