New SMC voter initiative encourages students to participate in 2020 election
Genevieve Coleman | Wednesday, September 16, 2020
To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment — giving women the right to vote — Saint Mary’s faculty and staff are creating the “[email protected]” campaign to encourage eligible students to vote in this year’s general election.
Thomas Bonnell, professor and a [email protected] organizer, explained his thought process behind proposing the idea to the College.
“In this hundred anniversary year, I thought it would be a worthwhile goal for a women’s college like Saint Mary’s to set a really high aim of at least going for 100% participation in the voting process for those who are eligible to vote,” he said. “We have some international students and there are some students who aren’t old enough. So, there are some who cannot vote, but [we are] trying to get everybody who is eligible to vote involved in the process.”
Rebekah Go, director of the Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE) and a [email protected] organizer, reflected on the importance of voting after historically oppressed groups struggled to receive suffrage.
“[I]n the case of some people such as women and people of color, having the opportunity to participate in the process came at a cost,” Go said. “We honor those who fought for the right for us to vote by thoughtfully participating in the process at every opportunity.”
Bonnell hopes to energize the student population to participate in the voting process, especially because of nationwide political apathy.
“[It] will take a bit of ingenuity on our part to come up with ways of making it fun and exciting for students to actually sign onto because, frankly, in our society, there’s significant amount of apathy, a significant amount of cynicism,” Bonnell said. “And we have to, to the best of our ability, try to overcome those disincentives for participating in the process.”
Go stated that [email protected] has many events planned for students to engage in before Election Day.
“Over 30 campus-wide events are planned for fall 2020,” Go said. “This includes tabling for voter registration and absentee ballot assistance, voter education events such as lectures and talks, and civil discourse initiatives to increase political discourse on campus in a way that promotes healthy dialogue across ideological differences.”
Bonnell overviewed the plans for the words of the 19th Amendment to displayed around campus to encourage students to register to vote.
“The text of the 19th amendment will be put up phrase by phrase … and then we’ll move those banners around campus from place to place and have them there as a reminder for students to register and ultimately to vote,” he said.
In addition, Bonnell noted that there will be other references to important events in voter history on display.
“Alongside that text will be some other banners contextualizing the sort of the ongoing efforts,” he said. “So, one might perhaps read the Voting Rights Act of 1965 …[O]ther milestones are reminders that we’re actually still working to secure voting rights for all US citizens.”
The campaign will also be hosting a voter registration drive on voter registration day. However, Bonnell reminds students that they can register any time before their state’s designated deadline.
“Next Tuesday is Voter Registration Day, so there will be tables up for that,” he said. “But, you know, that’s one day and, as I say, we just need to keep people signing up to vote, whether it’s here in Indiana or at home through absentee ballots. Because, you know, I won’t say time is running out, but time is short.”
Go emphasized that everyone is impacted by the choices of lawmakers, so voting is a critical part of having a say in what elected officials decide.
“Any individual who has complained about a pothole or is frustrated by snow removal in January has a stake in the election because allocation of resources are decided by elected bodies,” she said. “This is true in a city or town as much as it is true on the federal level. Participating in the electoral process via voting is one of the most consequential ways an individual can influence those decisions.”
Go also stated that voters should learn about important issues on all levels of government.
“Once individuals familiarize themselves with the mechanics of voting, it’s important that they educate themselves on the issues — on a local, state, and national level,” Go said. “Some people can become myopic — only focusing on the federal election — but there are many important races being run at all levels. Knowing how to vote is the first step, but deciding who to vote for is where the rubber meets the road.”
Bonnell acknowledged the importance of young people voting, as they make up the largest demographic in this year’s election.
“If 18 to 24-year-olds show up to vote, you will elect the president, the senators, members of Congress, members of the State House, governors,” Bonnell said. “You can outvote any and all other demographics at this point, including Baby Boomers.”
Because of this, Bonnell stresses that college students get out to vote so they can influence politics for their generation.
“Get as many people of your age to vote as possible,” he said. “Because you guys need to shape the world that you’re going to grow up in.”