Because you have a voice: Register to vote.
Because you have a choice: Vote.
It’s a big – and contentious – presidential election year, and there is a sweeping effort on campus this fall to register students and mobilize them to vote. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, but you need to be registered in advance to cast your ballot. The deadline to sign up in New York is October 9; deadlines vary in other states - check here.
A group of dedicated students is working to make registration and voting “as simple as humanly possible,” according to Sami DeRagon ’22, coordinator of the effort and president of Siena’s Political Science Society.
“It is so important that everyone understands why it is so fundamentally important to vote and that everyone votes,” she said. “Voting is about having your voice heard.”
First-time voters shouldn’t be intimidated by the voting process. Registration is quick and easy – a matter of filling out and signing a brief form, which the student volunteers will even mail for you with the postage paid. In New York, you can also register online. They’ll be visiting First Year Seminar classes, residence halls and other spots to talk up the registration process. If you miss them coming around, just email DeRagon at firstname.lastname@example.org and she or another volunteer will be in touch. Locked and secure drop boxes will also be set up around campus so you can submit your form. You’ll also see info pop up on social media in the coming days.
That’s step one. To actually vote, college students have the option to do one of the following:
• Request an absentee ballot to vote in your home district. You fill out this ballot by hand and mailed it in with a postmark no later than Nov. 3. You can request an absentee ballot when you register to vote, or online here.
• Travel to your hometown polling place on Election Day and vote in person. You may also be able to vote early in person – in New York, early in person voting starts October 24. You can find your center here.
• Register with Siena College as your home address and vote in person locally or by absentee ballot.
Note that you have to be at least 18 years old as of Election Day to vote.
While the College strongly encourages all eligible students to cast their ballots, the preferred option this year, in accordance with campus health and safety protocols and the signed student pledge, is to vote absentee so you do not need to leave campus and possibly expose yourself and others to the coronavirus.
DeRagon and other student volunteers stress that you do not need to be an expert on politics and economics to vote.
“While knowing who you're voting for is important, you don't have to know all the small details of what policy is to be an educated voter, you just have to know what kinds of things are important to you and impact your everyday life,” she said.
Chrissy DeMarco ’21 is also closely involved in the outreach efforts.
"I vote because it's my civic duty, but also because I believe it's the most powerful way to enact change,” she said. “I think every college student should take advantage of their right to vote, which is why I'm so passionate about making sure as many people are registered as possible. Our generation holds the power to change the country, and that starts at the ballot box."
Daniel Lewis, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and international relations, said voter registration and turnout among all college students has historically been low, and Siena’s rate is lower than average. He is advising the Siena volunteers on making their efforts as effective as possible.
“Political science research clearly shows that the best way to increase voter turnout is through direct, person-to-person conversations about the importance of voting, and education about registration and voting procedures,” said Lewis. “While the pandemic prevents traditional door-to-door canvassing, our students have developed creative and safe ways to reach students in the classroom, in residence halls, and on social media.”
He explained that in order for student voices to be heard in our society, they need to vote.
“The stakes of this election - how we address the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the federal debt, immigration, racial justice, our costly healthcare system, economic inequality, and America's role in the world - are just too high for college students to stay silent.
Our democratic system provides incentives for elected officials to respond to voters or risk being voted out of office, but there are no incentives to represent those that don't participate in elections.”
Jordan Dunn ’21 and Julia Rooney ’21 are assisting with the registration drive and echo Lewis’ sentiments.
"In my house, we were raised with the understanding that you shouldn't complain about an issue if you are not actively trying to be a part of finding a solution,” said Dunn. “Voting is the solution. Through voting, you are taking an active step, allowing your voice and more importantly your opinion to be heard and incorporated."
“I vote because college students typically have the lowest voting rate and it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Rooney. “I vote to protect my rights as a woman because the future is female. I vote for the non-citizens, convicted felons and all those who do not have the right, because all voices deserve to be heard. I vote because I do have the right to and so should you.”
The Social Work Class of ‘22 is also doing a Social Work Gets out the Vote on campus and with their home communities.
Tuesday, September 22 is National Voter Registration Day and the College's annual Constitution Day. This year’s theme is “Our Voice, Our Vote, Decision 2020: Why It Matters Constitutionally.” A panel discussion will explore the potential impact of COVID-19 on voter turnout, racial unrest, and voter suppression, and discuss the significance of absentee voting. This virtual event begins at 7 PM, and you can register here. This event is organized each year by Leonard Cutler, Ph.D., professor of political science.