At Stevens Institute of Technology, students who plan to head to the polls for the first time come Election Day took the first step towards that goal on Monday by registering to vote at a Voter Registration slam held on campus. The event, organized by the College of Arts and Letters and the Office of Undergraduate Student Life, was also a celebration of the U.S. Constitution, replete with a trivia contest and a live hip-hop style poetry slam inspired by the Broadway sensation "Hamilton."
Thea Zunick, associate director of student life, says the event was intended to raise awareness about the voting process and to instill a sense of civic responsibility.
“It’s important that students understand that their voices matter and why they should educate themselves on who they feel would best represent their interests and serve this country,” she said.
Young adult voters between the ages of 18 through 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups in every presidential election since 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But within that demographic, the majority of votes have come from students enrolled in a college or university.
Holding voter registration drives on college campuses makes it more likely that students are going to have a say in what happens in the election, says Assistant Professor of Political Science Lindsey Cormack, who helped students look up their registration status, helped them get registered if they weren’t already and shared absentee ballot information.
She says many students, new to voting and to their college community, aren’t aware of the registration process.
“College students comprise a transitional community. They don’t know whether they should register here with their addresses at Stevens or if they should register at home. Sometimes they don’t even know if they registered, so it’s important to get them in the process.”
Cormack was kept busy at the registration table as a steady stream of students filed into Stevens’ Babbio Center to complete registration forms.
Stevens sophomore Austin Rocha, a software engineering major, was among the students waiting in line to register. Rocha, an undecided voter, expressed dissatisfaction with the presidential nominees of the two major parties – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – and has not ruled out a third party candidate.
“This election is kind of weird, to be honest. I’m not sure if my vote will matter, but I feel like it’s my civic duty, even a moral obligation, to partake in the election,” Rocha said.
Suzett Lee, voting in her first election, says she is eager to cast her ballot. The Stevens junior, a mechanical engineering major, says immigration reform stands out among the issues central to her and her family.
“I know where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to me and there is one candidate that is completely unacceptable. My family is originally from Peru and I’m a first-generation college student and immigrant.”
Iman Alshafie and her twin sister Salma are also first-time voters. The two freshmen turned 18 this past summer.
“It’s an interesting year to vote and it’s definitely important for us to participate. The election, at this point, can go either way,” said Iman.
She cites equal rights, justice and religious freedom as the issues most important to her, adding that she will pay close to attention to whether campaign promises are kept after the election is over.
“Candidates always make promises during the campaign, but how are they going to follow through with that? They’re all nice words until they deliver on what they said they would do,” she said.
While presidential election years bring a heightened awareness to the voting process, Cormack says voting is a habit that can become life-long.
“One of the best ways to predict if someone will vote in an upcoming election is to see if they've voted in a previous one. By starting this practice at the earliest opportunity, students set themselves up to develop a practice of voting and hopefully they keep that up in the future,” said Cormack.
For more information about voter registration, including deadlines and absentee ballots, visit vote.org.