Saint Mary’s campaign aims to increase voter engagement among students
Sara Schlecht | Wednesday, November 7, 2018
The Saint Mary’s community had multiple opportunities to become informed and active in political issues during this Midterm Election season, as the Office for Civil and Social Engagement (OCSE) worked to increase campus-wide awareness and engagement in voting.
“Before this campaign started this year, there was no inclusive effort on campus to engage voters across political lines and other boundaries,” junior Annie Maguire, a student worker in the OCSE, said. “We wanted to make a campaign that would reach as many students as possible, trying to really push the effort to get the vote out.”
The OCSE made an effort to engage students of diverse backgrounds and opinions by reaching out to clubs and organizations across campus, she said.
“We’re trying to include everyone’s perspective and encourage people to vote because representation matters more than ever right now, and the more young people we have voting, the better chance we have of people representing us, what we believe in and who we are,” Maguire said.
Among the events the OCSE hosted were lunchtime lectures and tabling events to inform students about issues on ballots as well as create opportunities for voter registration, OCSE director Rebekah DeLine said. At these events, students could also sign pledges to vote that were delivered to their mailboxes on Monday.
“If you filled one out, you would have gotten your card back [Monday] along with this packet of candy that reminded you why you pledged to vote,” DeLine said.
On Tuesday, the OCSE offered to provide transportation to students who needed a ride to go vote.
“We have set aside two vehicles, so if a student needs a ride to their polling place and they are within St. Joseph County, we can provide a ride,” DeLine said.
DeLine said they offered this service because of the difficulties people often face when trying to vote absentee.
“We have found that the barriers to voting, both locally and absentee, are significant,” she said. “It’s a little disheartening, actually, but I’m really impressed by the persistence of students. We just want to reduce barriers.”
DeLine said students came to her recently with stories of facing barriers to voting.
“We had a student in our office vote absentee who got a letter saying her vote was not counted because her signature didn’t exactly match the signature on file,” she said. “She sent me a message [Tuesday] that after three angry phone calls, they’re finally accepting her ballot. I had another student who told me that she had been waiting for an absentee ballot. It didn’t come, so last night she took off and drove to Chicago so she could vote.”
Despite these stories, DeLine said she was pleased with the engagement and tenacity of student voters.
“I’ve been really impressed and inspired by the persistence of our students because, sadly, we don’t seem to make it easy for people to participate in elections,” DeLine said.
The OCSE set up a table of snacks and stickers Tuesday evening in the atrium of the student center to mark election day.
“We’re trying to celebrate our power as young voters and thank all those who voted in the election,” Maguire said. “We are proud of the campaign [to engage students] and where it’s gone and where it’s taken us, and also look to it as a model that we can continue in the future.”
Student political engagement has been more prevalent this election season than it was last year, and DeLine said she hopes the efforts of the OCSE will have led to more students voting than has occurred in the past.
“I feel very proud of Saint Mary’s and hopeful for the direction that we are going in the future,” Maguire said. “Because we’ve created this campaign, we kind of have the framework to grow now that we didn’t have before. I’m excited for the future, and hopefully this has made students aware of their power as voters.”
Overall, Maguire said students responded positively to the OCSE’s efforts to inform and engage voters, as well as understand the importance of the issues on the ballots.
Sophomore Brynne Volpe further emphasized the importance of voting.
“Especially now, when it feels like we can do absolutely nothing tangible to change anything, voting is that tangible solution,” Volpe said. “You’re making your voice heard, and you’re showing your opinions. Even if you live in a state where overwhelmingly their opinions don’t agree with yours, you’re still voicing your opinion, and that’s important because it’s a civic duty but also something you can do to help change the politics locally, on a state level and nationally.”