Students Stay Away From Polls

During the 2012 presidential election, 50% of eligible student voters showed up at the polls. In the November 2014 election, just 45% of Americans ages 18-24 with bachelor’s degrees turned out to vote.

During the 2012 presidential election, 50% of eligible student voters showed up at the polls. In the November 2014 election, just 45% of Americans ages 18-24 with bachelor’s degrees turned out to vote.

Courtney Garloff, Editor-In-Chief

   Student government president Michael Pheasant is asking a lot of his fellow students, something 82% of college students don’t do and haven’t done much since 1970: vote.

   During the 2012 presidential election, 50% of eligible student voters showed up at the polls. In the November 2014 election, just 45% of Americans ages 18-24 with bachelor’s degrees turned out to vote. According to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, this turnout was the lowest ever for a federal election.

   Pheasant said these statistics don’t apply to him—and shouldn’t apply to Misericordia students.

   “Here at Misericordia it is about educating the students to make informed decisions. This includes voting and standing behind the university’s values and beliefs,” said Pheasant.

   Pheasant attributes his commitment to voting to one of his fondest childhood memories. He would pile into the family car with his two younger brothers to go with their mother to vote.

   “It was our favorite day of the year, and it was fun to go with our mom,” Pheasant said.

   He explained how he would laugh at the way the poll volunteers’ feet–six more than the normal 2–would stick out from the bottom of the long blue curtain that hid each polling machine.

   “The volunteer would always laugh at us, but we didn’t care. All we wanted was to take turns pulling the levers to cast mom’s vote,” he said.

   He laments that touch screens have since replaced the boys’ favorite part of the excursion.

   Sr. Jean Messaros, Vice President for Mission Integration, said politics and voting go hand-in-hand with the service efforts that many  students provide for the community, but some students may not understand the connection.

   “The human touch is important, but the vote is also important,” said Messaros.

   Christopher Stevens, Assistant Professor and Director of Government, Law and National Security said political engagement is missing on many college campuses, including Misericordia. He said students need to get out into the community, provide  service and become participating members of society, and voting is part of that service.

   “I tell my students all the time that they need to get out and do something and be a productive citizen,” said Stevens.

   Stevens thinks the lack of student engagement may be because there are no politically-affiliated clubs on campus. Likewise, there are no campus polling places.

   Messaros suspects that the great number of students who are involved in service are aware of pressing social issues, but they may not be sure that their votes count and will translate into policy solutions.

   “Do I speak out, or do I do the service, or both because the vote is my voice being heard,” said Messaros.

   According to the US Census Bureau, young adults voting between the ages of 18 through 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups in every presidential election since 1962. This data also show that, on average, less than half of eligible young adult voters will actually make it to the polls even for a presidential election.

   Multiple stories about students’ lack of political engagement have been published in The Highlander, yet little has changed. Reporter Alexandria Smith explored student voting in “Political disengagement or social irresponsibility? Why Millennials don’t vote,” in Dec. 2014. Smith found that the nasty nature of politics  and political dialogue deterred many students. They felt discouraged by questionable campaign strategies and bitter partisan divisions, Smith found.

   In “Pre Occupied,” which appeared in the Dec. 2011 edition of The Highlander, reporter Morgan Harding  found that students were weighed down by their many day-to-day concerns and ignored politics and current issues as a result.

   “College students think about campus issues because it’s what’s in their face at the time,” said Harding.

   This became apparent to Harding during the nationwide “Occupy” movement, which held a national college walkout to protest unhappiness with the federal student loan interest rate, and MU students were unaware of the protest.

   “What shocked me was that Misericordia seemed to be in, like, a bubble. No one watched the news or looked at a news website and [they] were unaware. This made me extremely discouraged as a semi-political human being,” Harding said.

   Harding said it seemed that students just didn’t know what was happening politically.

   “That day went by like every other day on campus. Not one feather was ruffled,” said Harding.

   Students’ feathers weren’t ruffling up newsprint, either.  According to the Pew Research Center, half of Facebook users rely on the site to get their news.

   And Barack Obama knew that, and so his presidential campaign heavily used Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other forms of social media to reach out to young people. Some analysts attribute Obama’s victory to a large extent to his online strategy. Obama’s social-networking website, also known as MyBO, helped him set records in terms of donations and grassroots campaign efforts.

   Bernie Sanders is continuing the social media campaign strategy to drum up grassroots support.  So are other candidates – although the nascent strategy may not always work as candidates plan.

   For example, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush engaged in a Twitter war last August. The candidates made jabs at each other about their positions on student debt and education funding. Bush delivered the final jab by redesigning Clinton’s campaign logo to represent her increasing taxes.

   Regardless of the outcome of that Twitter tussle, young people most certainly viewed the messages: 89% of adults ages 18 to 24 use social media, according to The Pew Research Center.

   Some also also use it for political involvement.  Thirty-nine percent of American adults have engaged in one of eight civic or political activities with social media. These activities include promoting political material, encouraging people to vote, posting their own thoughts or comments about political and social issues and belonging to a group on a social networking site that is involved with social or political issues.

   Stevens said young people are the sleeping body politic waiting to be awakened.

   “I think the timing is right for the youth to sweep in and throw their support behind a candidate like they did for Obama in 2008,” said Stevens.

   Stevens believes that young, college-aged voters can decide an election. In other words, he said their votes do count.

   “They need to realize that not only is this important to me, but I can make a difference,” said Stevens.

   Senior Misericordia communications major Christa Poraski knows she can, and she decided to look off campus for a local campaign effort.

   Staring at the television along with dozens of campaign and community members, Porasky watched as the name of her candidate, Ron Williams, danced across the screen, announcing that he won the Wyoming County Commissioners race last fall. She said she breathed a sigh of relief and took a bite of that pizza she had been too nervous to nibble all night.

   “It was amazing when we won,” said Porasky.

   Porasky said professors and staffers should help students to become politically active by creating opportunities on campus.

   “I remember Misericordia used to have places for you to register, but it doesn’t really seem as though the student politics is very strong, even though it should be. I think it would be helpful if they informed students on the importance of voting and the difference they can make. Even a few simple email blasts that contain information on current politicians running both nationally and locally to help inform students would be great,” said Porasky.

   She said participating in a campaign can lead students to vote and become more aware of political issues.

   “It definitely made me more interested in voting. I was able to see the impact a single person can have and what good they can do as long as they have a large support system with they help of people from the community,” said Porasky.

   At Wilkes University, student government president and senior pharmacy major Anthony Fanucci also tries to create a voting culture.

   It all started during orientation while Fanucci listened to endless talk about services and things no one would care about until they were failing physics.

   Then, finally, he said the Student Government Association’s presentation sparked his interest and reminded him of the joy and importance of being a leader. He joined SGA.

   “I cannot express the importance of voting as a student,” said Fanucci.

   Fanucci said it is also important for students to deeply understand the consequences of not voting.

   “In my opinion, not voting translates into not caring about the future. Our generation is the future, and it is essential that we voice our opinions. Otherwise, the years that lie ahead will be shaped by members of other generations.”

   According to Fanucci, Millennials have, or at least should have, opinions on hot button issues such as climate change or health care.

   “All students have opinions about these important issues, but we cannot expect outcomes to favor our opinions if we sit back and watch quietly. We need to take a stand for our beliefs, and voting is an essential step.”

   Kit Foley, Vice President of Student Life thinks a push for a more political atmosphere on campus needs to be student-driven.

   “I would love to see students gather in a group and talk about current issues,” said Foley.

   Foley said students do not understand the impact  lawmakers have on college students’ lives.

   “Do students understand that who they vote for impacts things such as their student aid?” asked Foley.

   Foley said the university had been part of the Rock the Vote movement and has been shuttling students to polling places for many years.

   “I remember during the first year, we provided a shuttle to take students to vote in the presidential election. Staff members volunteered to take shifts driving the vans so that students could vote,” said Foley.

   Foley said students should still vote in the local elections in their home states even if they have to use absentee ballots.

   “Students need to also be aware of their congressmen, and not just the president when they are voting,” said Foley.

   One group on campus is working to try to foster greater political awareness on campus.

   Dr. Rebecca Padot, Assistant Professor of Government, Law and National Security is heading this change through the new GLNS club.

   “As GLNS club advisor, I want to solve that problem alongside the club,” said Padot.

   Padot believes that part of the solution is observing and learning from a proven college voting effort at The University of Pennsylvania.

   Penn Leads the Vote  is a student-run, nonpartisan, voter mobilization effort whose goal is to increase the number of registered students and encourage them to go to the polls on election day. PLTV further institutionalizes a voting culture by saturating campus with registration forms, reaching out to students through social media, staffing on-campus polling locations, and decorating campus.

   A group of student leaders will travel along with Padot to UPenn to spend time with PLTV members.

   “We want to learn from them to see if we can follow best practices  with the goal being that next year, the GLNS club won’t have to turn away any students on campus wanting to register to vote,” said Padot.

   Some of the few efforts to promote voting include a voter registration drive held by GLNS last fall, which registered about 35 students. In addition, the university provides a shuttle that takes students to local polling places but only for presidential elections.

   Junior government law and national security major Nicole Sadler thinks more could be done to bring politics and voting to the forefront.

   “They play the news in the Den, but how many people are watching anyway?” she asked.

   Neighboring schools are also making efforts to increase student participation – but perhaps not as many as is needed

   Penn State Wilkes-Barre senior information, science and technology major and student government president Tyler Pace wanted to change student ID cards to not only make everyday life on campus easier, but to also make it easier for students to vote.

   Pace joined the student government senate in early April 2015.  He wanted to replace expiration dates on all ID’s with each student’s date of birth. The cards would then serve as students’ second form of ID , whether it is for the Department of Motor Vehicles, voter registration or other reason.  Pace’s idea was forwarded to officials at Main Campus who approved the change. Students will receive the new ID’s within the next year.

   Pace said aside from student government, few people are taking action to promote student political involvement.

   “As far as I know, we do not do anything promoting voting, but the SGA is similar to politics but on a local campus level, which is extremely small compared to most political controversies going on now,” said Pace.

   Pace said even participation in student government can help students learn what the voting process is like and encourage them to participate in other elections.

   “Being that our generation is one of the largest to date, I feel it’s very important for kids to vote, whether it’s at a student government level or a presidential level. All voting does matter, whether your think your vote matters or not,” said Pace.