New partnership aims to boost student voice at polls

A new partnership encourages more college students to cast their votes at the ballot box.

MASONVotes and Virginia21, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that supports young voters in higher education, have created a partnership with TurboVote to ease the obstacles college students face, such as updating their registration, in the voting process.

TurboVote, according to TurboVote administrator and senior Lori Lawson, is a free, online tool that allows users to register to vote, update their registration to reflect their current address and vote absentee. The program provides reminders about upcoming local, state and federal elections.

According to Sam Novey, TurboVote partnerships director, the online program works with 211 colleges and universities across the country.

“MASONVotes started its partnership with TurboVote in September 2013 as part of a statewide partnership with Virginia21,” Novey said.

Virginia21 is teaming up with 17 Virginia colleges and universities. The participating schools include University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, University of Mary Washington and James Madison University.

“[Virginia21] is doing great work supporting the efforts of MASONVotes and other similar groups across the state,” Novey said.

According to Novey, TurboVote has also been working with MASONVotes and Mason staff to develop strategies for disturbing TurboVote to eligible Mason students.

“The goal is to make the logistics of voting as simple as possible for young voters so that they can focus on the most important things: the candidates and their stances on the issues that matter most,” Lawson said.

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Alexsis Rodgers, the communication director for Virginia 21, says 147 Mason students have signed up with TurboVote since Aug. 1. Students have until voter registration closes on Oct. 14 to register or update their information.

“A significant part of advocating for these issues [that face young voters] is ensuring that enough young voters hold elected officials accountable in each election cycle,” Lawson said. “A wise politician has little incentive to serve the wants and needs of a population that has historically not contributed significantly at the ballot box, particularly at the state level where higher education funding is being dramatically cut.”

According to Rodgers, these educational budget cuts lead to more student debt.

“Every time there’s a budget cut opportunity, it means that legislators look to higher education to find money to save, which will be money for the state, but then students need more money to go to college,” Rodgers said. “Students don’t really have more money to spend, so they’re borrowing more of it.”

According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout from people aged 18-24 years old for the 2012 presidential election was only 41.2%. This is compared to the 65 and older demographic with a voter turnout of 71.9%. Overall, not many American citizens are showing up at the ballot box.

“The U.S. is rated 138th in the world in voter turnout,” according to TurboVote’s website.

Virginia21 hopes to change these low numbers by encouraging America’s younger generations to be informed and participate in politics.

“We care about issues like education, economic development and good government – issues that affect our lives every day. So we tell Virginia’s next generation of leaders about these issues and why they matter,” reads the Virginia21 website.

Lawson also urges young voters to participate in voting so that lawmakers can hear their voices and opinions on current, educational issues.

“With the potential for mid-year tuition hikes across the state with the latest round of cuts to higher education funding, it is more important than ever for eligible college students to exercise their democratic right to vote and show just how much of a priority this investment in our generation should be for state lawmakers,” Lawson said. “This is where TurboVote enters the picture.”

According to Virginia21’s website, the state-wide chapters will be using social media as well as walking campuses with smart phones and tablets to accomplish one objective – turning out young voters. The idea is that if all college students have access to the Internet, whether through their smart phones or computers, then all of them should have the opportunity to register to vote online.

“You can get a text or an email that will send you information beforehand: when the deadlines are, what the elections are and when the elections are taking place,” Rodgers said.

Although TurboVote is meant to be an easy resource for students to use to register to vote, Lawson emphasizes that it is just the first step in creating a well-educated voting body.

“It is also important to note that TurboVote is just a first step,” Lawson said. “Taking the time to write and call legislators on all levels of government, as well as the most crucial step of actually showing up on Election Day or mailing off an absentee ballot, are tools that we must utilize to ensure that our interests as a generation are heard. Be sure to act soon, however, as the registration deadline for the upcoming elections in November is Oct. 3, 2014.”

This story was originally published in the Sep. 29 issue of Fourth Estate. Illustration by Laura Baker