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Group increases election awareness

Katie Kohler | Tuesday, October 16, 2007

With the first presidential primaries only three months away, campus groups have begun to address rates of student voter registration. Newly formed campus initiative NDVotes’08, a nonpartisan educational campaign sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns, is spearheading the efforts.

Senior Mike McKenna, CSC coordinator and NDVotes’08 member, described the coalition as “a localized extension” of the Rock the Vote Campaign, a national nonprofit organization developed to increase political advocacy, especially among young voters.

The coalition “developed as a task force this fall to give [the voting initiative] more ownership campus-wide,” he said.

NDVotes’08 consists of various political groups on campus, including College Democrats, College Republicans, ND Right to Life, NAACP and other groups, McKenna said.

While NDVotes’08 is not affiliated with the national Rock the Vote organization, it shares similar objectives.

“Our goals are streamlined with Rock the Vote,” McKenna said. “We stress education, registration and awareness.”

Political groups on campus have recently jumped onboard with NDVotes’08, but their roles and duties have not yet been specified, said Spencer Howard, co-president of College Democrats.

The president of College Republicans, Sarah Way, sees the affiliation for NDVotes’08 as an extended effort to register as many students as possible.

“This is really a bipartisan effort to get people to care enough to vote,” she said. “Every vote does count. We, as young Americans, need to start showing concern about our future.”

NDVotes’08 will name dorm commissioners shortly after fall break to maximize the spread of their goals, McKenna said.

One of the key elements of NDVotes’08 is the voter contact card, which will enable the group to compile information of registered students as well as notify them about voter deadlines, absentee ballot information and local elections.

While coalition members called local elections important, they aren’t the group’s priority. NDVotes’08 is focusing on national elections, McKenna said, especially with the top-heavy primary season in January and February.

Local elections tend to draw less attention, Way said.

“People tend to see the local elections as not as important,” she said. “Most students plan to leave South Bend in a few years and don’t care to get involved in local politics. If students keep taking this attitude, the community will have less of a reason to show concern for our needs.”

Local elections remain relevant even to politically disengaged students, Howard said.

“People here are from all around the country and the world and they probably know their own local district well,” he said. “But the truth is that while they’re here, even if they’re part of the Notre Dame bubble, the local elections and the local government affects them so they should become involved in it.”

Howard mentioned the recent South Bend event permit ordinance as one example of local politics affecting student life.

NDVotes’08 developed out of partnerships with the Rock the Vote and other national organizations, McKenna said.

“Our goals are to build a strong coalition to last for future years so political dialogue is elevated and students can increase their civic responsibility on campus,” he said.

NDVotes’08 falls under the umbrella of the Center for Social Concerns’ Justice Education program.

“Through CSC, we were able to bring all the political groups on campus together,” McKenna said. “By promoting social justice, we can take a stand as citizens.”

Representatives from each group participating in NDVotes’08 will meet biweekly after officers and dorm commissioners are chosen.

“Essentially, all membership is through coalition,” McKenna said.

NDVotes’08 is hoping to add to the individual success of political groups on campus in increasing registration.

“We’ve always been successful in sending volunteers to participate in [Democratic] candidates’ campaigns, whether it’s working in their offices or doing phone banking for them,” Howard said. “Just letting people know there is an election going on.”

Way also hopes NDVotes’08 will springboard higher registration within her organization.

“Success in the past has been mixed,” she said. “Those who really care about politics are proactive in making sure they are registered. Many people simply don’t care enough.”

With the elections rapidly approaching, NDVotes’08 is “continuously building.”

“Right now, we are trying to emphasize our nonpartisan coalition on campus by including different perspectives and backgrounds of each political group and viewpoints,” McKenna said. “It is a unique thing happening at Notre Dame and something we can be proud of.”

Marcela Berrios contributed to this report.