The Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good sponsored an “Election Watch Party” for students in Parina Lounge last Tuesday evening. This event, which has become tradition at USF, is central to the Center’s civic mission, which, as director Corey Cook said, “is to try to get people involved in representative democracy. We try to hold a party every election to take a look at the results.”
While students enjoyed complimentary pizza, popcorn and cotton candy and watched the election results on several television screens, the Foghorn spoke to students to get their opinion on student involvement in the elections and their ideas for the school to promote awareness.
The need for more school-sponsored events came up as well as ways to increase voter participation.
Politics major Madeline Dessert said, “A good idea would be to pass out registration packets in the classrooms or in the cafeteria. I think if people are registered and they get the mail-in ballot, if it’s in front of them, they’ll fill it out.”
However, according to graphic design major Marissa Howser, voting is a personal choice that the school does not have much influence over. “Students will vote if they decide to do it. The school can’t pressure you to do anything at all,” she said. “If they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it. So I think it’s more about rallying students to be more passionate about voting and I think that’s a hard thing to do, but the school has done a good job.”
When asked how informed they were about the different candidates and propositions, most students replied that they had been keeping up with the news and gathering information from various sources.
Sylvia Castillo, a graduate student enrolled in the masters of public affairs program, said she made sure to make an informed decision. “I read the ballot measures and did plenty of research beforehand.”
Politics major Stephen Zendejas said, “I usually try to diversify where I get my information. I look at CNN, Fox and MSNBC, so I can look at things more objectively. With ads, I do watch them but I try not to take them too seriously because you know that they’re skewed. I pay more attention to their effectiveness because I know that it’s going to affect other people.”
Students also remarked that many people fail to see the importance in exercising their right to vote. “I don’t think enough USF students vote,” said senior and politics major Madeline Dessert. “Most of the people here are politics majors, obviously we vote because we’re interested but I think people in the other majors really don’t vote. I have a lot of friends who aren’t even registered to vote and just don’t care.”
To support this, Zendejas said, “There were some students that were sitting next to me and they were saying, ‘Do you think I should vote?’ and I was kind of upset by that because they said ‘I would have voted for so and so’ and it’s like why wouldn’t you just do it?”
McCarthy Center director and politics professor Corey Cook attributed this to the kind of election that took place. He calls USF students typical in terms of a student population and that, “in a presidential election year like 2008, students were very active, engaged and involved, but in low-intensity elections like this one, there’s nothing really interesting in terms of ballot propositions that would inspire young people to vote.”
“So,” Cook said, “given an election where there isn’t something that necessarily speaks to young people, the turnout declines. We have a very engaged student population but this isn’t an election that is really on their radar.”
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