"PACE Registers Record Number of Voters"
SALISBURY, MD---With the victor of the presidential race recently decided, one group of Salisbury State University students is reminded of its efforts to emphasize that every vote counts. As a part of the University's Your Voice, Your Vote campaign, the voter registration team, including Michael Torreyson, Beau Williams, Kelly Kolwicz, Ron VanBellen and Bradley Bronson, launched a two-week long active crusade to get students of SSU registered and voting.
The idea to form a voter registration team originated through the University's non-partisan Institute of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE). In accordance with its goal to provide students with opportunities to participate in civic projects, PACE recruited volunteers to encourage other students to get involved in the political process.
Members of the registration team spent hours visiting and talking to students in campus residence halls, clubs, organizations and classes about the importance of their votes. The team members also set up and monitored tables in the library and class buildings, which provided students with the materials to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot.
"PACE's effort was to make the filling out of the forms as easy as possible. Likewise, this was my effort-to give accessible aid to those filling out the forms," said Beau Williams.
This effort, which even included providing transportation to and from the local polling sites, proved to be successful. At the end of the team's campaign, 294 SSU students registered to vote, while 667 students filled out absentee ballots. But the group's efforts didn't stop there.
SSU student affairs vice president, Barry King, sent the team to a Campus Compact- sponsored conference on civic responsibility at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Upon his return, Michael Torreyson reported that only one out of 57 represented universities had a larger number of applications processed than SSU.
One topic that was discussed in detail at the conference was why youth engagement in politics is declining.
Williams believes that, while young people are not as active in politics, they are civically involved through volunteerism. Volunteer organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and several after-school programs, allow youth to provide a service for the people of the community.
"The problem that our generation has, even though we are one of the most civically involved ever, is making the connection between our engagement through volunteerism and that of engaging ourselves politically," Williams said.
Along with failing to make the connection between volunteering and voting, Torreyson added that a general distrust and disinterest in politics and the lack of a candidate with whom they can identify keep students away from the polls.
PACE does not plan to give up on hesitant, potential young voters, however. The organization will re-launch a voting campaign every other year, involving more student organizations and local high schools.
PACE also has two faculty/student research teams studying the legal and political ramifications of Maryland election regulations on young people, particularly those in college. These teams hope to come up with some practical suggestions to facilitate college students becoming voters.
"The Maryland law makes it difficult for students to vote on campus, and the absentee ballot process is cumbersome," said Dr. Harry Basehart, co-director of PACE. "When the research teams finish their work, we will have some concrete proposals to make it easier for collegians to vote."
While the election results were a muddle, one thing was clear at SSU. There, students demonstrated that if you create opportunities for young people to vote, they will. So much for so-called student apathy.