University of Connecticut student organizations will launch a flood of voter registration initiatives on campus this fall as the Nov. 2 election approaches.
Students Christine McGrath and Ethan Senack co-chair the UConn Votes Coalition, an organization composed of student groups like Undergraduate Student Government, Connecticut’s Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG), College Democrats and College Republicans.
The coalition hopes to register 1,500 people this fall, Senack said. He said student groups need to get out on campus and raise awareness about state politics and the upcoming elections.
“These elections may not have the same awareness level as the 2008 presidential election, but there are some really interesting races for Connecticut this year,” he said. “We have both the Senate and the gubernatorial seat open, plus two students are running for state representative in this district.”
Students Jason Ortiz and Brien Buckman are both independent candidates for state representative in the 54th District, which includes Mansfield, Chaplin and the UConn Storrs campus. The nominated candidates are Mansfield Deputy Mayor Gregory Haddad, a Democrat, and Christopher Paulhus, a Republican who also serves on the Mansfield Town Council.
Senack said the coalition remains in its planning stages, but in the second week of school, groups already expressed major interest in joining.
McGrath, also the external affairs chair for Undergraduate Student Government, said students will have a table outside and slowly build a presence on campus until “Blitz Week,” the week before voter registration closes on October 19. Members of the coalition will then knock on doors, speak in classrooms, canvass in dorm rooms and approach people on the street in an effort to register as many eligible voters as possible.
“The coalition’s efforts ran really smoothly for the presidential elections in 2008,” she said. “We had lines of students wrapped around Mansfield Town Hall to vote. We hope to have that kind of success again.”
ConnPIRG statistics report almost 3,608 students turned out for the 2008 presidential election, about 22 percent of the undergraduate student population. In 2006, 1,642 students were registered and in 2004, 2,200.
Nationally, in 2006, the number of young voters ages 18-29 increased for the second major election in a row, according to the United States Student Association. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement estimated that 22 percent to 24 percent of young voters voted in 2006 compared to 20 percent in 2002.
The student group Idealists United, a human rights and social justice group on the UConn campus, began setting up a registration table outside and inside the Student Union shortly after classes began. Members hope to push the importance of local politics as well as bigger statewide races.
“It’s so important to get people involved,” said Nina Hunter, president of Idealists United. “Students at UConn are such a large part of District 54 and sometimes we feel so underrepresented. It’s really important to vote so we can be heard too.”
The coalition plans to improve waiting times to vote and to keep a meticulous record of all voter registration forms to avoid error and fraud, Senack said.
“We’re also going to try and space out how often we plan to bring the forms to the Registrar of Voters,” he said. “We obviously want to avoid dumping a massive pile of forms on the Registrar’s desk.”