We held the third and final component of our voter registration drive for my PSCI 410: Campaigns and Elections class today and last week since TOMORROW is the deadline to be registered to vote in the state of Indiana. That is right, folks--if you want to vote for (or against) your (least) favorite candidates on November 8th, you must be registered by October 12th. Our state law requires voters to be registered at least 30 days prior to the election, which is true in many states across the country, though some states allow 15 days before and even a few have day-of registration, usually referred to as EDR (I'm looking at you, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montanta, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming). Because our class wanted to focus on helping ensure people who were qualified and interested in voting were able to do so, our last big "push" for voting registration was this past week right up to the deadline.
First, we participated in door-to-door canvassing, an invaluable life experience that I truly believe everyone should have once. When I was telling one of my friends who has worked on dozens of campaigns about this, she and I both laughed because we knew how important and yet also how humbling this activity can be. People were over all incredibly kind to my students as we walked through our local neighborhood each late afternoon/evening, knocking on doors and offering to help register or check registration for anyone who might need it.
It helps when you are not promoting a candidate, issue, or policy; having done this for numerous campaigns before (and I should mention, even non-partisan campaigns!), you will always come across people who hate your candidate/issue/policy/shoes/accent/presumed identity/preference of fast-food/no I am not kidding, and then you get yelled at and have doors slammed in your face. Literally. Registering people to vote is like the friendly version of canvassing where you still get the disappointment and exhaustion of walking through stretches of entire streets, knocking on each door without a single response, only to get one answer where the person is already registered, and you start to realize how truly hard this type of work is. Each group I took of students got the classic experience of canvassing (minus the rude yelling and doors-slammed-in-face): we had many houses with no answers (typical), many respondents who were already registered (also typical), and a few people each and every time who were not registered, who were interested in being registered, and were glad to have us help them through the process.
I wanted my students to get a feel for what this kind of work is like, in addition to obviously helping people register to vote. Working on campaigns can be the most exhausting and frustrating work but it can also be among the most rewarding and door-to-door canvassing personifies this. We experienced many of the "highs" with minimal negatives and I loved seeing my students faces and those of the community members as we made connections within our community. A side benefit to this project was that I love University Heights (our surrounding neighborhood) and I know living alongside a college campus with a bunch of generally well-intentioned but sometimes rowdy 18-22 year olds can be difficult. Both our students and our neighbors are fantastic but that is just a reality of any community like this. I hope that through the interactions my students had with their neighborbors just south of campus that they are more respectful of those who call the area home year-round, that the community members are more comfortable with the students who live here during the school year, and that both are more appreciative of what the other has to contribute and understanding of their differences. Sigh. Not to get too emotional, but I really love my job.
We registered voters (below) and helped carry pumpkins for older neighbors (above)--all in a day's work. :)
Last week, we also helped register voters when the second Indiana gubernatorial debate was held on campus. The university did an amazing job hosting the event and my students loved interacting with the community members and listening to the three candidates running for governor explain their policy differences in our very own Ransburg auditorium.
Pre-registration with our patriotic table (above). I instructed the students to make it look "like American threw up all over the table" with the limited decor I could scrounge months after the 4th of July. They made it look like magic.
Changing lives, making democracy work (above). The whole gang, students, Dr. Root, and myself (below) in a post-debate group picture. Thanks to the poor random soul who mistakenly lingered by our table afterwards and was kind enough to take multiple pictures upon my request. I suggested a funny one but apparently nobody does that anymore. I am so old.
For our very last day of voter registration, students toured the residence halls and the newly established Greyhound Village apartment complex (which is as absolutely stunning on the inside as it looks from the outside--I am truly jealous) and did door-to-door canvassing there. We had tables in the student center the week before so many students already interacted with us, but this provided us another way to reach out to those whom we may have missed and made sure they were all set for the election.
One of my all-star students (double major and Honors so, yeah, he is bright) who is also an RA set-up a table and offered the ultimate incentivization (candy) to students passing-by who were otherwise shy/weary of our excited approach to get them registered. Told you he was an all-start, huh? Candy = effective motivator each and every single time.
Our fantastic technology support services team at the school loaned us a dozen I-Pads and even downloaded the Indiana Secretary of State's voting app on each one, making instant voter registration a breeze. Shout out to the Secretary of State's office for creating such a user-friendly tool and to the awesome folks in our tech team for having it all ready to-go for us (because if I was doing it,,,we would probably still be trying to figure out how to download the app...)
Finally, I had the opportunity to speak to a large group of non-PSCI majors, all first year students in one of my dear friend's classes and explain why voting is so important in our country. Yes, democracy involves many arguments, lots of compromises (now seen as such a weakness but really a reality of the process), and occasionally it involves yelling and dramatic banter that can so easily frustrated and disenfranchise voters who dislike the vulgarity. But more than any of that, it requires participation. It requires interest. It requires support.
I actually got a little choked up telling the students how proud I am to live in a country where we do have free and open elections and where I, as a woman who is not very affluent, still has a right to participate. It was a moment where I felt really honored to get to do what it is I get to do, to share my love of government and politics with people and to help inspire them to become more informed and more engaged. I hope my students felt that same sense of pride and purpose through our UIndy Votes! efforts.
Though voter registration is over, we have one more final class project that I am very excited about--in November, right before the election, we will be visiting our local elementary school to share our knowledge and love of democracy to the local 5th and 6th graders. My students are looking forward to it and I may be even more excited than them. What an absolutely wonderful, enjoyable, and meaningful to spend our fall. :)