UIndy Votes works to educate voters around campus

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With the November midterm elections approximately one month away, a group of University of Indianapolis students and faculty are working to educate potential voters about deadlines, eligibility requirements and candidates relevant to the university and surrounding community.

The student group, UIndy Votes, is focused on registering voters, educating them about candidates and encouraging them to go to the polls according to Student Project Director Ally Nickerson.

Photo by Ki Tally

UIndy student, sophomore political science major Dani Merlo, explains to a student the process of registering to vote. Merlo said the process is quick and simple, and the best way to get students to register to vote is to be excited and engaged with the students. She said this is a goal she sets for herself while she works the booth.

The group is currently in the first phase of their mission, which is registering new voters. Their activities thus far, Nickerson explained, have included checking the status of current voters, helping students away from their home counties learn how to absentee vote and helping those who are not sure of their polling location.

While most of these activities take place in Schwitzer Student Center, UIndy Votes also branched out into the community, and volunteers canvassed door-to-door during the first week of October.

“We specifically chose areas like federal housing in Rowney Terrace and Laurelwood apartments, as well as some areas with high populations of immigrants, because we want to reach out to voters who are typically disenfranchised, who this process isn’t usually accessible to,” Nickerson said. “We want to bring it to them and say ‘Hey, would you like to exercise your right to vote? Here’s how.’”

The group has been more engaged this year, expanding its efforts and activities with Nickerson and Assistant Professor of Political Science Laura Merrifield Wilson dividing the responsibilities of managing the club.

UIndy Votes also received a grant from the Indiana Campus Compact, a consortium dedicated to increasing civic engagement on college campuses. The grant has been used for shirts, an iPad for registering voters and other expenditures.

There has also been an ample amount of volunteers on hand. Nickerson and the majority of students involved with UIndy Votes are enrolled in Wilson’s course about political campaigns and elections, and they receive participation credit for helping out with the club’s efforts.

One of those students, senior history education major Bailey Connerley, said that he hopes his work with the group will encourage people to get involved in the political process. Although he admitted that many students do not show interest, Connerley said he wants every student—even those with even a low level of interest—to know their rights.

“Everyone has a say. Even people that don’t care have a say,” Connerley said. “No matter what election happens, even if it’s as big of one as 2016 or as small of one as 2017, people have a reaction to the outcomes. So if you have a reaction and you’re not voting, then what are you doing to get the outcome you want? It does affect you, from the local level on up.”

This year’s midterms are especially consequential for Hoosiers, Wilson said, with Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican candidate Mike Braun vying for a hotly contested Senate seat. The two are neck and neck in the polls, she said, and every vote will count for either to gain a majority.

Even without the position of president open, Wilson said that Indiana residents have significant offices opening up that are worth voting for.

“Indiana obviously has a really important Senate race, and then all of our Indiana General Assembly House seats are up, the State senate seats are up,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot on the ballot that’s worthwhile.”

As a nonpartisan group, UIndy Votes is also committed to helping people of all political persuasions understand the candidates and offices that they are voting for, Wilson said. Volunteers hand out flyers explaining candidates’ positions on issues that are important to people in the Indianapolis area, and will host a number of educational workshops in the weeks leading up to elections.

“The goal is really just voter turnout just for people, not necessarily for a candidate or party,” Connerley said.

This sentiment was echoed by Nickerson, who added that however voters feel about the current political climate, they have the opportunity to either change or protect it this fall.

“I think some people see what’s going on and they’re not pleased with it, or maybe they see what’s going on and they really like it and they want to be able to support their party,” Nickerson said. “We don’t care who you vote for, we would just like for you to vote.”

According to Nickerson, UIndy students are eligible to vote in Marion County as long as they have lived in Indianapolis for at least thirty days prior to Election Day on Nov. 6. Nickerson said that this means students who live in dorms can get involved with local politics even if their hometowns are outside of Marion County.

“These are the state and local elections that are going to affect on a daily basis especially as a college student, thinking about college affordability, taxes, those are the things that are going to affect us, and it’s going to be the most help for us to vote where we live,” Nickerson said. “I do get people all the time who say, ‘I’m not political, I’m not political.’ And I always say you don’t have to be ‘political’ to vote. You can vote if you care about potholes, you can vote if you care about being able to afford prescription medications.”

Once the deadline for voter registration passes, Wilson said that UIndy Votes will shift focus to educating registered voters on the issues and candidates they should consider before casting ballots next month.

“We don’t want to just register these people and be like ‘Okay, next month, participate, we’re done with our work here.’ We want to keep them excited and engaged, and obviously we want an informed electorate,” Wilson said. “It’s not just voter registration, there’s a really important educational component. We want to keep the momentum up, because I really hate to do a lot of work in September and hope, fingers crossed, that people remember the one Tuesday in November to actually vote.”

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