By Christy Ulmet and Bailey Basham
The Tennessee Secretary of State is emphasizing the importance of the college student voice in national elections as part of a statewide effort to get millennials to vote.
Last summer, SGA President Sarah Hogan, along with faculty advisor and associate dean of students for community life Matt Spraker, attended a luncheon for Tennessee university student body presidents and their advisors at the state capitol building. The event, hosted by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, was geared towards getting college students to register to vote.
At that luncheon, it was pointed out that many students were unable to vote in the last election because of incomplete voter registration forms. Quality assurance checklists were given to student advisors so they could go over the forms and make sure everything is correct to ensure that students registering to vote would be eligible to participate in the voting process.
Many millennials seem excited about getting to participate in such an important vote for the first time; however, some excited first-time voters missed the Feb. 1 voter registration deadline to participate in Primary voting.
“I would say largely millennial voters are tuned out of the election at this point,” said Alex Smith, national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, in an interview on Feb. 18 with Washington, D.C NPR member station WAMU 88.5. “Not many of them tend to engage in the primary process.”
Allison Clark is in charge of student voting registration at Trevecca.
Junior education major Allison Clark was appointed as the coordinator of voter registration and education last fall. Clark has been voting in local elections since she was of age and is one of the millennials who is excited about getting to vote for the first time in such a big election.
“A lot of times, millennials get caught up in the immediacy of things, and it’s hard for [us] to stay focused on one subject. And with politics you have to kind of know about a lot of things that have been going on for a long time,” said Allison Clark, junior elementary education major. “I think that millennials can lose interest quickly because there are so many varying factors and it goes so in-depth.”
Generation Citizen is a national organization that works to guarantee that students in the U.S. have access to effective civics education, including the knowledge and skills needed to participate in the democratic process.
“Only 19.9 percent of 18-29 year olds voted in the 2014 midterms, the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded, and only 46.7 percent are registered to vote, the lowest rate in 40 years,” according to a report from Generation Citizen released in December of 2015.
Though the numbers are down, many people still believe there is power in the hands of young voters.
“Young people have the potential to shape elections,” said Kei Kawashima- Ginsberg, Director of The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, in a February press release. “In the Democratic caucus, young voters helped to propel Senator Sanders to a virtual tie, and Republican youth broke their own record of caucus participation. One message is clear: when candidates and campaigns ask young people to participate and inspire them to get involved, they respond.”
In response to the efforts being taken by Hargett, Spraker and Hogan came up with a threefold solution to get more students involved that was similar to one used by other universities: registration, information, and mobilization.
The registration step was the focus last semester, so Clark and hosted a voter registration drive last fall. She is very passionate about voting and feels that it’s our duty to be informed and vote.
The registration effort last semester surpassed its original goal of 100 students, with 133 registration forms turned in at its conclusion.
“It’s the best turnout I’ve seen since I started working here seven years ago,” said Spraker.
The team is currently in the second phase.
Spraker, a Trevecca graduate himself, remembers when he registered to vote for the first time. He filled out his voter registration form in Jernigan lobby during a voter registration fair while he was at Trevecca.
But Clark believes that change can only come about by voting.
“It’s so important to exercise your right to vote. You can’t complain about stuff if you’re not exercising your right to vote and being educated about [things],” Clark said.
Though the number of voters has decreased, there seem to be a lot of young people talking about this election, Spraker said. Some of the names he’s heard floating around in conversation on campus are Sanders and Trump, though he’s not sure the talk about Trump has been all that positive.
“Bernie Sanders is hip and cool, so there’s a lot of talk about Bernie Sanders,”
said Spraker. “Trump is getting a lot of talk, but not necessarily, ‘Oh I’m going to vote for Trump.’ More like ‘Oh my goodness, can you believe what Trump said?’ I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘Oh that’s my man.’”
To fill out a voter registration form, or for more information on voting, contact the office of Student Development.