by Emma Maple
The student vote could make or break the upcoming election. In a democratic country, voting is an essential part of citizenship. When the votes of students are so important to the election, universities have a moral obligation to them to be responsible citizens by encouraging them to vote.
According The New York Times, the student vote may be crucial in the upcoming presidential election. If a student’s vote is going to matter, though, they must actually vote. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, in 2018, only 62% of Whitworth’s registered voters ended up turning out at the polls. On the other hand, institutions that actively encourage their students to vote through different methods often have a higher voter turnout.
Whitworth isn’t doing enough in this arena.
Part of the problem is that not everyone is aware of the issue. Dale Soden, history professor at Whitworth, said that “for most of Whitworth’s history, people didn’t need to be ‘talked in’ to voting… people just did it.” However, students could always use multiple reminders about how to vote and why it is important.
Of course, COVID-19 could be used as an excuse. Political science professor, Kathryn Lee, Ph.D., said that prior to the coronavirus outbreak, “the political science department and the League of Women Voters in Spokane had a voter registration drive in the HUB. We would have done that again this fall, but here we are.”
In lieu of a registration drive, Whitworth’s Dornsife Center for Community Engagement has created other programs to remind students to vote. According to Dornsife communication specialist, Lauren Sfeir, the organization put up posters including photos of well-known individuals holding signs stating why voting is important, as well as informational posters informing about how to register to vote. Dornsife also hosted a Zoom event during which students and faculty could discuss reasons to vote. Sfeir said that about 25 people passed through the hour-long meeting.
Events such as these are important, but they are only a few ways of encouraging students to vote. Other colleges around the country have done more to help students, even in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. The New York Times stated that in 2016, Austin Community College in Texas used university funding to set up temporary early-voting sites on nine out of eleven campuses. Those nine sites ended up logging most of the nearly 14,000 ballots that the students cast that year. Baylor University is another great example of a college using active methods to promote voting among students. According to their student newspaper, The Baylor Lariat, Baylor University is providing free shuttle rides to voting locations this year to ensure anyone who wants to vote can do so. One reason for this decision is the fact that 80-84% of their students were registered to vote, but only about 41% actually did. Their goal is a 100% turnout for registered student voters.
Whitworth’s turnout numbers are similar. A study done in 2019 by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement found that about 78% of Whitworth’s students were registered to vote in 2018, but only about 48% voted. While Whitworth’s student voting average is higher than the national average (which is only 39%), we can do better. Simply registering to vote is not the same as voting. Maybe if Whitworth did more than just set out a few signs, we would see the voting rate rise.