Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Voter Registration

News_Cooper-Ellis_Voterregistration_5

Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis.

With midterm elections approaching in November, Whitman students hosted a voter registration drive on Friday, September 26th.  Juniors Gladys Gitau and Michael Augustine organized the drive through the Washington Bus, an advocacy group which promotes youth political involvement.

Gitau, who worked with the Bus over the summer, collaborated with Augustine, who was fresh from doing research on the topic of voter registration.  The pair prepared for the event over the summer, receiving training and resources from the Bus.

Gitau and Augustine led a team of ten volunteers during the drive.  The event included tabling in Reid, a base on Ankeny near Maxey Hall and a campus canvass by volunteers.  Working in pairs, the volunteers went to various buildings across campus to advocate registration.

“It was helpful to have that kind of a two-pronged attack of having a base…but also having extensions throughout campus,” Augustine said.

The drive yielded 53 newly registered voters, 49 of them in Washington State.  Students also registered in Oregon, California, Utah and New Jersey. Gitau had expected a higher turnout of around 150, but says she’s satisfied with the results.

“I think when you’re doing voter reg sometimes the numbers don’t always reflect the amount of effort that you put into the event,” Gitau said.  “Any number of new voters is important to us.  So whether we had done five or whether we had done 150, I think it still would have been important that those new voters registered.”

While practically every election brings a registration drive with it, the drives are not consistently supported by any one group, and their organization has been left largely to individual students over the years.  As such, the future of the drive is dependent on individual students’ initiative.  Gitau is uncertain of whether she will take charge again.

“I think it’s something that should be done every year,” Gitau said.  “Whether it’s going to be Michael and I that do it, I’m not necessarily sure.”

Though nearly all the newly registered voters filled out Washington forms, it’s unclear how many registered in Walla Walla.  Neither the drive’s organizers nor the Walla Walla County elections office could provide data on the number of Whitman students registered in Walla Walla.  Augustine and Gitau both hoped to see some students register in town, but are not extremely concerned.

“I think that something like that is pretty much personal preference,” Augustine said. “But there are a lot of values to registering here at school, especially if you’re a first-year or a second-year… to have that perspective of where you’re living, where you’re going to live for the next four years.”

Sophomore Sean Hannah canvassed outside Penrose Library with junior Thida Doowa.  Together they recruited around 12 voters, by Hannah’s estimate.  Hannah focused particularly on getting students to register in Walla Walla.

“I would ask them if they want to move their voter registration to Walla Walla,” Hannah said, “because it’s going to be where [students live] nine out of twelve months of their year.”

This year’s seven ballot initiatives served as another motivator for Hannah.  Walla Walla voters will be asked to decide, among other things, on two opposing initiatives regarding background checks for firearm purchasers and a third that would allocate funds to public schools across the state with the aim of decreasing class sizes.

Walla Walla County Elections Supervisor David Valiant says that college voters, like many others, come in fairly regular waves without dramatically changing the county’s election results.

“We see regular cycles of voter registration that peak in the presidential years, but tend also to ramp up in other even-numbered years,” Valiant said.  “With college towns, it’s very typical that… voters graduate and move on.”

Last year’s vote on an initiative to label genetically modified foods created a surge in voter interest on Washington’s college campuses, according to Valiant.  He doesn’t anticipate a similar level of growth in 2014.

“This year there’s nothing quite that polarizing,” Valiant said.

October 6th was the last day for online and mail-in registration, but in-person registration at the county elections department remains open until October 27th.  Gitau encourages anyone who can to register.

“Everyone should vote,” Gitau said.  “Everyone should register to vote, and if they’re not sure about what to vote for, or they’re not sure if they care about voting, I think registering is a good way to ensure that they have options.”

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