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NDVotes promotes voter registration, education in midterms season

| Monday, September 10, 2018

Editor‘s note: Throughout the 2018 midterm election season, The Observer will sit down with various student organizations and professors to discuss political engagement and issues particularly pertinent to students. In this first installment, News Editor Natalie Weber speaks with NDVotes about their plans for the semester.

When organizers revived NDVotes in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election, they envisioned it as a three semester endeavor ending in the fall of 2016.

Now, almost three years since its inauguration, the non-partisan organization continues to promote political engagement in the Notre Dame community and beyond, Rosie McDowell, who advises the group through the Center for Social Concerns, said.

“There was so much energy after [the election] that all the students involved at that time were like ‘No way, we can’t let this go,’” McDowell said. “So I think as … a lot of political scientists have reported, this midterms season seems especially important … maybe not unique to our campus or students in general, but I think there’s a lot of energy and engagement in the political process right now [and] in the voting process right now.”

With the approach of midterm elections, the group plans to focus on voter registration and education both at the University and in South Bend, NDVotes co-chair and senior Kylie Ruscheinski said. Alongside the Center for Social Concerns, NDVotes is sponsored by the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and the constitutional studies minor.

“A big part of the NDVotes mission is it’s not just registration — it’s being active throughout,” Ruscheinski said. “So that’s why the midterms season is also good to push this. It’s not just a big election every four years. It’s constant engagement.”

The organization will continue its Pizza, Pop and Politics series throughout the semester, in addition to engagement events such as a midterm results watch party. It also plans to facilitate voter registration in both South Bend and at Notre Dame through tabling at local events.

“We’re really trying to get every dorm represented so there’s a point of contact in every dorm that is well-versed in how to register, how to get your absentee ballot and I think that’s a big push this year,” sophomore Rachel Sabnani, chair for dorm liaisons, said.

The organization also includes representatives from several student organizations, including student government, the Notre Dame Right to Life Club and GreeND, amongst others.

“I would say a powerful thing about the task force and a lot of student organizations on campus is that no matter what beliefs have been brought to the table by that wide spectrum of beliefs, we’re all sitting at the table because we believe Notre Dame students can and should make an impact on politics through their vote and in being informed,” Ruscheinski said. “So yes, the views might be different, but they’re all in the room together and we’re all working on getting certain topics out to the entire student body.”

By representing and bringing together various political organizations, members of NDVotes share a common goal of promoting political engagement amongst younger generations, sophomore and co-chair Michael Marotta said.

“We feel that the work we’re doing is really important because as of right now, our generation and the generation before us are the ones who are going to be the most impacted by decisions that politicians are making today,” he said. “And as we’re growing in number, our generation is becoming the driving force in the electorate — in the present and in the future.”

Disenchanted by the current political climate, many young people disengage from the political process, junior Sheila Gregory, chair for community outreach, said.

“A lot of young people feel like voting isn’t a way to have their voice heard, so they’ve just kind of sworn off the political process altogether because they’re like ‘These people don’t represent me,’” she said. “And then I think what you saw in 2016 with several close races, all over the country, within the presidential itself and several states was within a percent, people can really see how voting impacts elections.”

As a senior and task force member, Prathm Juneja shares Gregory’s concerns. A member since his freshman year, Juneja said he sees a connection between the work of NDVotes and the University’s mission.

“I think it’s fair to say that people in our generation seem to be growing more distant from political issues, and that really concerns me,” he said. “And I think that’s a real concern on an elite college campus like Notre Dame, where our mission as a university is to raise students who will do good for the world.

“If you’re not thinking about politics, if you’re not thinking about world issues, or American issues or the issues of people who weren’t nearly as lucky as us to get here then all that work is for nothing.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a junior majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

Contact Natalie