Make It Count campaign strives to make National Voter Registration more than just a day
BY Managing News Editor
AND , Senior Reporter
About 100 million individuals decided to avoid the polls during the 2016 presidential election, according to the Washington Post. These individuals who relinquished their right to vote did so because they didn’t want to get involved in the political fray, because they didn’t believe their vote would matter, or if they were a college student voting via absentee ballot, because they didn’t know where to find a stamp.
On voter registration day Tuesday, Sept. 25, students milling about Trabant University Center in between classes were surprised by former Vice President Joe Biden, who made an appearance at the university’s Make It Count voter registration drive. The event was hosted by the Biden Institute, which is working to encourage students to register to vote before the midterm elections.
When Biden arrived, he climbed up onto a platform and addressed the crowd of gathered students.
“I don’t give a damn how you vote,” he said during a brief speech. “Just vote. Claim back that power.”
The efforts of the Biden Institute and Make It Count stretch far beyond the one-day event where they registered 158 students — they are trying to start a movement.
Make It Count co-founder and graduate student director Eric Hastings was motivated to get involved by the 2016 Presidential Election.
“We saw that as an apathetic response if you will to a very divisive election,” Hastings said. “If anything, we thought you know that especially young people would probably come out because it was inviting to the everyday person.”
The Make It Count Campaign is not a voter drive, rather a voter engagement effort that tries to help students navigate through what Hastings refers to as a “thick process.”
As of the 2017-2018 academic year, only 38.8 percent of university students were Delaware residents.
Students out of state often face dramatic difficulties for students out of state when election season rolls around. While most familiar with the Mid-Atlantic region, Make It Count is dedicated to helping students throughout campus.
“It is a drastic challenge if they are not familiar especially with requesting an absentee ballot, getting to them in time to fill it out, submitting to their election office so that it is submitted in time to fill it out,” Hastings said. “There is a lot of steps there.”
This often takes time that students simply do not have, between the voting process and time needed to learn information about the candidates.
Cathy McLaughlin, the Biden Institute’s executive director, said that busy students who are concerned that political awareness means keeping up with the seemingly constant onslaught of news need not fret. She suggests that students who wish to avoid the drama should pick one issue they’re passionate about and do their best to expand their knowledge and follow legislators based on that issue.
She also said that, if students are interested in a particular issue or speaker, they should reach out to the institute, which wants to hold events centered around the specific issues that are of interest to students.
This has motivated the Make It Count campaign to hold a series of “Living Room Conversations” that allow a small group of students with a variety of views to discuss a certain issue. This opportunity, Hastings said, can make them aware that “maybe we have more similarities than we have differences.”
The Make it Count campaign will hold a much larger conversation in the Trabant Theatre for the public on Oct. 25, where students could possibly see themselves as the people on stage, said Hastings.
According to Valerie Biden Owens, vice chair of the Biden Institute, as well as Joe Biden’s long-time campaign manager and sister, students should vote, even based on a single issue, because election outcomes can affect them for a long time after the polls close.
“You will shape the future of the country, but most importantly, you will shape your own future and what’s going to happen in the years to come,” she said.
Biden Owens and McLaughlin believe that political apathy among millenials that contributes to the necessity of Make It Count and TurboVote stems from the false belief that one vote won’t matter.
“I think the disillusionment is in the breakdown of the political system,” Biden Owens said. “As an individual you can step up and you can speak your mind, and you should because if you don’t speak your mind then basically there’s complicity. If you don’t open your mouth and speak up when you see a wrong … then you can’t complain.”
Voting, however, even for students who are passionate, can be a tricky process, particularly for students who go to school out of state.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states mail out absentee ballots for all eligible voters. Some offer the option to be a part of a list of voters that are sent an absentee ballot every election, while others require absentee voters to specifically seek out their ballots. These state-by-state procedural differences can make voting confusing for students who are already registered.
Because of this, the Make It Count campaign has promoted the use of TurboVote, on online resource that allows students to register and notify students of certain deadlines within their own state. According to McLaughlin, another benefit of Turbovote is that the students can complete the voting process entirely online — they will print out your ballot and send it to you to sign and mail to your polling center.
If students are confused or unsure at any point in the process, or simply in need of a stamp, McLaughlin said they are welcome to drop by the Biden Institute, regardless of their political affiliation, and someone will assist them.
Thus far, the university’s efforts have been awarded by ALL IN Democracy challenge, which recognizes college campuses for their dedication to increasing student voting rates. For the 2016 presidential election, the university was designated as a bronze campus for excellence in voter engagement.
Still, young people must make the effort to get involved. Involvement, said Biden Owens, is necessary for both successful elections and successful democracies.
“A democracy only functions when people participate,” she said. “If you don’t participate then our democracy and our institutions will crumble, and we see cracks in the structure now. It is an obligation, I believe as a citizen, that’s your job, you’ve got to vote.”