It’s almost time for Americans to return to the polls. With all 435 congressional seats and 35 Senate races heading to the polls, the November mid-term elections could potentially change the make-up of our Congress.
Many of our students are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, some for the first time.
To encourage student participation in civic engagement, Lee's Office of Community Relations hosted a voter registration drive on campus last week.
Director of Community Relations Bethany McCoy said the drive doubled as a registration booth and a chance for the newest generation of voters to dispel any confusion.
“There’s an element of it where we want students to vote, but also it’s an educational opportunity in the aspect of how we can answer questions for students, especially those that are to be voting for the first time,” McCoy said.
Tennessee voting activity is among the lowest in the nation. The state is ranked 40th in United States for voter registration and ranked 50th in voter turnout, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State.
The event hopes to educate and engage students even if they are not in their home state, according to Kate Patterson, a student intern for the Office of Community Relations.
“The biggest issue we had was the lack of knowledge that you don’t have to be a citizen of Tennessee to register to vote,” Patterson said.
This summer, McCoy and Patterson went to the capitol in Nashville for a training session on how to put on a voter registration drive and how that should look when catering to students. Universities that receive federal funding, like the financial aid Lee accepts, are required to provide students with information and opportunities to register to vote.
A booth was set up in the Deacon Jones Dining Hall to assist students with the registration process and provide information regarding the voting process.
“We saw a lot of students that were already registered come in to be walked through the process of how to vote, which added an educational aspect this year that we hadn’t really had in the past,” McCoy said.
Voter turnouts have not always expressed the fervent nature of politics. Fair Vote, a national research group dedicated to tracking such turnouts, reported that 35.9 percent of the eligible population participated in the 2014 midterm elections.
According to McCoy, citizens have political opinions. but they do not often know how to go about expressing them.
“What is a better way to express your opinion than voting for what embodies your beliefs?” McCoy said. “We would rather just voice our opinion than be called to action in voting. It is important to dialogue, but it is also important to take that dialogue and put it into action through our voting.”
For additional links to voter registration and information about local election candidates, visit Lee's local election page.