The students in Assistant Professor of Political Science Laura Albright’s Campaigns and Elections course have been spending their semester trying to increase voter turnout in the University of Indianapolis community. Some of the ways they are attempting to do that are voter registration drives, neighborhood canvassing, reaching out to residence halls and going to a local elementary school.
The start of the UIndy Votes! registration drive kicked off on National Voter Registration Day Tuesday, Sept. 27 and continued through to Sept. 29. Students from Albright’s course worked the booth in the Schwitzer Student Center during the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. During this time, they helped students register to vote or checked their registration on computers set up at the booth. After getting registered, students were provided with their polling location.
Junior political science major Brayden Montgomery was one of the students who worked the registration booth. He said that he hopes that UIndy Votes! will have a positive impact on the UIndy community.
“We registered—I don’t know exactly how many people—I know it’s at least above 30,” Montgomery said. “So we got a good amount of people registered. So that’s not going to make a huge impact on the race…. But every little bit, in my opinion, helps. Just making people more aware of issues and things like that, being involved politically, I think, is the ultimate goal of it [the registration drive]. So every person you get involved politically, they can get someone else. And hopefully it just kind of creates a snowball effect.”
Beginning on Tuesday of last week, the class started doing neighborhood canvassing in University Heights. Students knocked on the residents’ doors, asking if they were registered or if they wanted to check their registration or polling place. If residents did want to register, the students had paper copies of the voter registration forms for the residents to fill out.
“So that’s kind of like our [the class’s] community outreach, because obviously a lot of people live in the University Heights neighborhood,” Albright said. “Some of them are students and some of them are older community members, so we wanted to reach out to them.”
On Monday, some of the students from the class walked through the residence halls, looking for students who hadn’t registered yet. Albright said they wanted to double-check to be certain that everybody had a chance to vote because the deadline was Tuesday.
The last thing that class members will do to increase voter turnout is visit a local school, Brandes Elementary, to talk to the fifth and sixth graders the week before the election. According to Albright, they plan to speak about “why it’s important to vote, what voting means in a democratic society and why they [the elementary school students] should be excited for the election even though they can’t actually participate.” Albright said that the course members would be speaking to the elementary school students during the time of their class, so the course members could walk over to the school.
Albright said that it’s important for young people, such as UIndy students to vote, especially since they don’t generally vote as much as the members of older generations.
“There’s an expectation a lot of times, campaigns don’t focus a lot of effort or energy on the 18- to 30-year-old demographic—the young voter, so to speak,” Albright said. “They know it’s less likely that they’ll participate. I think that’s really wrong, because it’s the first time most of these students have ever been able to vote. It’s a very exciting election. You want to make sure that they [18- to 30-year-olds] have that opportunity. In particular, we know with [regard to] sustaining political participation, [that] if you start early and you start voting now—when you’re 18, 19, 20—you are more likely to carry that on throughout your life.”
The voter turnout is not just low in the United States, but also in Nigeria, according to junior political science and international relations major Tosin Salau. Salau said she grew up in Nigeria, where the government is pretty similar to the U.S. government in that it is a representative democracy in which the citizens also vote for their leaders. Salau said Nigeria has many political parties but has two main parties. Until the most recent election, one party had been in power for over 10 years.
“We voted [for] our president in 2015, so … the party that has always been in power has been out of the government now,” Salau said. “It’s funny because voter turnout here, they say it’s low. But I used to think that voter turnout in Nigeria would be really high because [the] people fed up with our government would want to get out and vote…. But then I checked it out, and it was like 47.1 [percent]…. That 47.1 [percent] was even higher than it has been in past years, which was weird because in this election, I thought people really, really voted, because it’s a new person and it’s a new party.”
Salau urges both the citizens of Nigeria and the United States to get out and vote.
“If you vote, then you have a voice,” Salau said. “You feel like it’s your civic duty, you know? You don’t get to talk about the economy [or] the president that’s in power because you didn’t vote. You have a say in your government. Just one vote can make that difference.”
Although the deadline for registering to vote already has passed, students registered in other cities may start applying for absentee ballots. According to Albright, in Indiana, a citizen cannot request an absentee ballot until 29 days before the election and must be registered 30 days before the election. She said absentee ballots are especially useful for college students, so they will not have to drive all the way back home to vote. Beginning today, voters may request that an absentee ballot be sent to them by going to the “Absentee Voting” section of IN.gov.