Speak Up: Colleges across the Country Do Their Parts to Encourage Voting

Article excerpt

Then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama launched his bold bid in 2007 for the presidency of the United States, the contingency of college-aged voters was paramount to deciding the outcome of the election.

As in past big election years, college students mobilized in large numbers, that year mostly rallying to Obama's call to help him lead a major turnaround in how the nation is run and who runs it.

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Today, with only weeks left before the November 6 election and higher education funding emerging as a major issue in this year's election battle, college campuses are again at the center of the intense election campaign between now-President Obama, seeking reelection, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

As the candidates blaze trails across the country, frequently using college campuses as the site of their public political rallies, campuses are abuzz with students, faculty and staff working to get their peers and others engaged in this year's national elections. They're holding seminars on the importance of participating in the election, how to register to vote and how to vote by absentee ballot.

"Much like the broader population, there is overwhelming interest" in this year's election, says Dr. Alvin Thornton, a political scientist and current associate vice provost for academic affairs at Howard University. "Whether it turns into turnout is another question. That's still to be determined."

Even students who candidly say they have lost some of the zeal that sent them to the polls four years ago--most to vote for Obama--say sitting this election out is not an option.

They say their personal feelings are secondary to larger higher education community concerns about the future of federal funding for college aid and Pell Grants, political differences over federal student loan programs and the ongoing debate over the DREAM Act for the children of undocumented immigrants.

"In 2008, we thought we were part of a movement" says Rock the Vote student volunteer Shakei Haynes, a 22-year-old senior who voted for the first time in the 2008 election. "What happened was that movement was not connected to anything afterward," says Haynes, who voted for Obama. "We were waiting to be called with what do we need to do next. There wasn't that kind of dialogue."

Haynes says he is deeply engaged in this year's election, despite the disappointment.

"I'm active because I understand the seriousness of this election. The college vote is important because a lot of these policies affect us," he says, echoing a list of concerns voiced by other students around the nation.

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Gearing up to fight

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, 70 students, staff members and faculty were sworn in this summer as "Volunteer Deputy Registrars" in Bexar County, Texas, to promote voter registration and register citizens to vote at the campus polling location on Election Day in November. In November 2010, students registered 2,700 new voters. This year, they hope to register 5,000, says a university official, noting that the "get-out-the-vote" effort is non-partisan.

In Washington, D.C., when Howard University and Morehouse College recently faced off for their fall football classic, students and faculty from both institutions used the occasion to generate interest in the election. Part of a current events symposium--featuring the presidents of the student government associations at both institutions--was focused on the importance of participating in this year's election, just outside the event hall, students were staffing a Rock the Vote information table, providing election information to potential first-time voters ranging from where to register locally to how to apply for an absentee ballot.

In Louisiana, where recession-driven state budget cuts have slashed annual funding for state universities, the Student Government Association (SGA) and student NAACP chapter at Grambling State University combined forces at the start of the school year to marshal get-out-the-vote efforts. …