Will we or won’t we. . . . vote in the midterms?

Chapman students were largely absent in the last midterms. Some say the Trump administration and the carnival around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court will improve this year’s attendance

Students take a study-break to the sounds of Fox News and CNN. Photo by Marcella Zizzo

Come November 6th, the midterm elections will offer Chapman students the opportunity to voice their frustrations with or endorse the efforts of the current Republican administration. But it’s very unclear if college students – notorious for their low voting rates – will turn out in numbers big enough to affect the outcome.

Californians will have the opportunity to vote on propositions involving rent control, animal rights and bond funds for housing programs, water projects and an effort to weaken the gas tax. Students from other states and some from California may also be voting in house and senate races that could dilute the power of the Republican administration, which now controls all three branches of government. Midterm elections are also a proving ground for politicians who may one day run for national office.

Though not as highly publicized as presidential races, midterm elections are also important. Many cities of Orange County will be up for grabs, including the 46th congressional district that Chapman calls home.

However, despite their engagement with public demonstrations or social media blasts, voter turnout rates with 18-24-year-olds are among the lowest of all demographics. At Chapman, less than 15 percent of students voted in the 2014 midterms, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), even though 58 percent were registered.

Chapman performed better in the in 2016 presidential contest (57 percent turned out, beating the national college average by almost seven points, according to NSLVE). But few students are aware of who or what is at stake in local midterms and those that often find their efforts to vote thwarted.

Freshman English major Sydnee Valdez said she doesn’t exactly “know the process or how to register to vote,” nor does she intend to.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Valdez explains when asked the specifics on where and when she’ll finally register.

Valdez, who is from Hawaii, was unclear on when the midterms will be taking place, as well as what is up for election.

“When is this again?” she asked. Valdez said she does not feel prepared to vote in either the Orange election or the one back in her hometown of Oahu.

“A lot of people don’t know what midterms are,” said senior screenwriting major Amanda Galemmo. She, herself, plans to vote in the upcoming season, specifically to “vote Steve Knight out of Congress.”

Steve Knight, currently serves Santa Clarita, Simi, and Antelope Valley in the 25th District as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting on the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the Committee on Science, Space, Technology, and the Small Business Committee.

Many other students “think their vote doesn’t matter,” said junior creative producing major Gillian Evans, who said she participates in both general and the primary elections.

Although studies show a low voter turnout in midterm elections, Galemmo feels an increase in political engagement from her peers since the last presidential election. Many students are distressed by actions of the Trump administration, and the attempt to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has many students determined to make their voices heard.

Voting is “a great way to be peaceful and still make change about what [people] really want,” said peace studies and screenwriting double major Jacqueline Dang,

“I went to an actual poll booth. I thought it was interesting, I talked to some pretty cool people in line,” Dang said of her experience voting in the 2016 presidential election.

“People need to realize that they each have a voice,” and that it is important to use it, said Dang, who plans to vote in the upcoming election.

But, Dang is a minority.

 Why do students have such poor turnout? Some students live far away from the town or state in which they are registered and cannot return home to vote, or they find it difficult to navigate the absentee process. Some don’t realize or minimize the connection between their personal behaviors and national policies. Others don’t have a tradition of voting in their families, haven’t been encouraged to register and feel so alienated or ignorant about issues and candidates they are hesitant to cast a vote lest it is a “wrong” one.  

Chapman students make strides in applying for an absentee ballot. Photo by Katie Whitman

Failing to register in time to vote in California or encountering obstacles when trying to do so is a running theme.

“I tried to vote, but I had to get an absentee ballot from Tennessee,” said Maddie Davies, a junior film production major.

“By the time I was able to submit it back to them, it didn’t arrive to the state on time. So, technically, I was registered to vote but I could not vote,” Davies said. “I was so mad though, I really wanted to [vote],” she added.

The harder it is to vote, the less likely it is that people will do so.  In-state students will potentially have access to in-person voting, as well as mail-in ballots. The out-of-staters are left with the option of absentee or mail-in ballots, should they be away at school during any election day.

But only 3.2 percent of Chapman students who voted in the 2014 midterms – 36 students, to be exact – cast absentee ballots in the  2014 midterms, according to NSLVE.

Convenience affects turnout, too. Students who are registered in the same state where they attend school have an easier time submitting a mail-in ballot on time, rather than those who have to request one from their home state.

Efforts are underway to boost Chapman’s historically poor midterm turnout.

Associate Professor of English Tom Zoellner sent an email to faculty asking teachers to take “a few minutes in class” to tell students that if they have not already arranged to vote by mail in their home districts, they should register here before the Oct. 22 registration deadline, and tell students how to do so. (In person at a Post Office or the DMV, or by going to https://registertovote.ca.gov/ )

 After her absentee ballot failed to arrive on time for the 2016 presidential election, Davies registered through TurboVote, a non-partisan, online platform meant to ease registration.

Brandon Naylor, director of communications at Democracy Works, the organization overseeing TurboVote, said students benefit most from TurboVote’s alerts to registered voters, notifying them of any upcoming elections. TurboVote allows students to update their registrations and order absentee ballots from their hometown, Naylor explained.

Student body president Mitchell Rosenberg said one of student government’s next “big initiatives is voter engagement.”

A school-wide voter registration day on campus may be in the works, said Rosenberg, as the Student Government Association wants to “enhance voter participation and voter education, especially”.

Rosenberg advises new out-of-state students to register in California, as they’ll be calling the state home for at least the next four years.

“Registering here while you’re here is going to be more beneficial in the long run,” because it is more likely you will wind up casting a ballot, Rosenberg said.

Chapman’s website includes information and guidelines regarding the steps necessary to take advantage of TurboVote, as well as various other sites that can educate you further on the issue of voter registration.

Even if your home state does not permit online registration, Chapman’s site offers useful resources to get registered in other ways.  

To vote in California’s November 6th midterms, you must be registered by Oct. 22. (Vote-by-mail ballot requests are required by October 30th).

Additional information can be found online, with documents detailing everything from polling locations to the candidates running for office.

Marcella Zizzo

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