On-campus political groups rally students to register for 2012 general election
Volunteers help peers sort through web of voter registration rules
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 23:10
As election day draws nearer, student political groups are encouraging their peers to register to vote and apply for absentee ballots prior to state deadlines.
The Committee for Political and Legislative Action (CPLA), keeping with tradition, has taken a leading role in promoting political awareness by hosting faculty panels to discuss election topics and conducting a week-long voter registration event in which students could ask questions about the voting process. Other student political groups, such as Wellesley College Republicans and Wellesley College Democrats, as well as student volunteers from the Elizabeth Warren campaign, have also adopted the task of registering voters this election season.
“CPLA has generally been the organization that has done a lot of voter registration in the past,” said Beth Feldstein ’15, a member of the CPLA executive board. “Because we are nonpartisan, I think we have more of an ability to reach out to the entire campus. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do this year is hammer out a system that can be used in the future to spread the word about political events.”
In a joint effort, the Wellesley College Republicans, the Wellesley College Democrats and CPLA co-sponsored viewing events for the 2012 presidential debates in the Pendleton Atrium. The televised debates have focused primarily on domestic policy concerns including health care, job growth and government debt, as well as foreign policy issues such as a possible U.S. response to Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The co-sponsors hope that students of all political leanings are able to familiarize themselves with the candidates’ discourse in a safe and politically-accepting environment.
“We’re trying to have this be a community experience with people getting involved in the elections, figuring out what they believe and what’s important to them instead of taking on a more antagonistic system, which doesn’t serve anyone particularly well,” Katherine Leung ’14, member of the Wellesley College Democrats, explained. “I think that all three organizations have really been working together to have one safe political space for dialogue where people can say what they think without fear of being judged.”
In addition to the efforts of CPLA, the Wellesley College Democrats, the Wellesley College Republicans and volunteers from the Elizabeth Warren campaign have registered voters by going door-to-door in residence halls.
To supplement the ongoing voter registration efforts, Agora, Wellesley’s political society, has also been actively promoting political events and voter registration opportunities on campus.
“Our objective as a political society is to promote political discussion on campus,” Agora President Lucy Burdge ’14 stated. “In this sense, we’ve worked particularly hard to make sure students are aware of the political events that are going on at Wellesley. We don’t do any events that are specific to voter registration, but people have e-mailed us asking ‘How do I register to vote?’ or ‘Where can I register on campus?’ and we have definitely made a point of directing them to CPLA or other relevant groups and making sure that they are voting.”
Many states have adopted unique voter registration laws, fueling doubt among voters. Some argue that these laws could hinder political participation among voters who are less savvy about their state’s rules. Notably, some states require voters to register through the Internet, whereas others require voters to register on paper. States also have different timelines to register for absentee ballots.
Professor Hahrie Hahn, from the political science department, highlighted some of the discrepancies between states.
“Some states, like Oregon, allow anyone to vote early by mail while other states only allow it for those with a documented absence, such as military families living abroad,” Hahn explained. “Now, some states are moving to require ID at the polls, which is a controversial topic because of the history our nation has had in using voter ID laws to suppress the minority vote.”
Voting rules and regulations vary widely from state to state, leading some scholars to question whether or not the national election will yield fair outcomes. However, Hahn is skeptical that policymakers would accept federal regulation for voting procedures.
“Some government reformers argue that we should standardize voting laws across the states so that everyone’s vote is counted equally and everyone has equal access to the vote,” she said. “Changing these laws would require a major reversal of hundreds of years of local independence.”
Hahn also noted that the strategic decision to vote in one community over another may not yield significant results in presidential elections. Instead, she stressed the importance of identifying with a community when choosing which state to register in.
“It is extremely unlikely that any one person’s vote will change the presidential election outcome, even in the swing states,” Hahn said. “But there are a number of local elections that are on the ballot along with the presidential election—there are elections for U.S. Congress, state elections and sometimes municipal elections. To make the most informed vote, students should vote in the jurisdiction where they are most closely linked to the issues and elections of the day.”
Voting rates among college students between the ages of 18 and 29 have been steadily on the rise since the 2008 presidential election between President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. However, the United States Census Bureau indicates that, despite the peak in young voter turnout for the 2008 presidential election, the young adult demographic still lags behind in terms of voter turnout compared to voters ranging from 45 to 64 years of age and ages 65 and above.
Despite the persistent disparities in voter turnout, Feldstein argues that Wellesley students must access the right to vote in the upcoming elections.