Campus joins nationwide democracy initiative, hopes to prevent low voter turnout
October 6, 2016
With local and national elections rapidly approaching, the Associated Student Government and Center for Student Involvement are all in.
Santa Clara is one of 189 campuses participating in the “ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge,” a nationwide initiative to increase voter participation amongst college students through collaboration with faculty, staff and students. The campus-wide initiative entails debate watching, voter registration, hosting of the Santa Clara City Council candidate debate and setting up polling stations on campus.
“In the classroom we are taught to engage directly with the ideas in constructive and lasting dialogue,” said senate chair Neil Datar. “By getting to vote, by getting to hear the candidates directly and by getting to ask them specific questions, we give students the opportunity to learn what they’ve applied in the classroom.”
ASG President Lidia Diaz-Fong said she understands that students have busy lives and that engagement with the electoral process may not be a priority. However, she said that every vote matters, especially in local elections, since the races can be decided by just a couple hundred votes.
“Engagement with this election is so important because we have a highly polarizing debate at national level and we also have highly significant issues on the ballot at the local level,” Datar said. “Measure B and the Housing Bond … will have a direct impact on people’s lives here and getting students to participate in that gives them a voice in how we choose a future for ourselves.”
Tedd Vanadilok, ASG faculty advisor and director of the Center for Student Involvement, said that to participate in this challenge a school must develop an action plan to increase voter turnout. In early 2017, data will be compiled about participation rates and awards will be given accordingly.
According to Vanadilok, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge serves as a “framework” for increasing voter participation on campus. He said that Santa Clara’s participation is not for accolades but rather to “know that we are doing our doing civic duty to get students engaged in the process” and to “(have) that shared experience with other colleges and universities.”
Vanadilok said that low voter turnout amongst college students is often due to forgetfulness, voter intimidation, lack of knowledge about registration and inaccessibility of voting polls. In response to such obstacles, the action plan focuses on accessibility, outreach, education and awareness.
Issues with accessibility are addressed through polling stations on campus, absentee ballots and voting for students abroad. Outreach is manifested through voter registration and increased awareness will be addressed through debate viewing events, including candidates for local city council.
“Though the project may have originated in Senate, the goal of the project is to bring as many people in as possible,” Datar said. “We’re trying to involve as many campus leaders as possible, including our entire organization. We have a representative from MCC on committee and we’re looking to bring in SCAAP, APB and the other CSOs as well.”
For the first presidential debate, the library partnered with the Social Science Department, the College Democrats and the College Republicans to screen the debate live in the Learning Commons and facilitate a discussion about the candidates and their stances on issues.
Librarian Sophia Neuhaus estimates that 300 people were in attendance for the first debate—an increase in attendance from the previous election, which drew around 200 people. According to Neuhaus, students were respectful when sharing their views and listening to others’ opinions.
“People are social beings and it’s nice to be in a situation where you can share something together, so you can share your support for a political candidate,” Neuhaus said.
She added that the debate and forum provided students with the “opportunity to be an active participant in the (electoral) process.”
Datar said he is hopeful that the program will continue to garner participants across campus.
“Every vote matters,” he said. “If we bring them the opportunity to vote, the opportunity to engage in dialogue, [we hope] they’ll seize that opportunity.”
A screening of the next presidential debate will be held on Oct. 9 in Daly Science at 6 p.m. The Santa Clara City Council candidate debate is on Oct. 17 in Locatelli Student Activity Center at 6:30 p.m. The third presidential debate screening will be Oct. 19 in Dunne Residence Hall Commons at 6 p.m
On Election Day, Nov. 8, a polling station will be set up in the Williman Room of Benson Memorial Center from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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