“A Franklin & Marshall College professor assisted in creating a faculty-led organization that helps college students nationwide register and turn out to vote,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Alex Geli reported Sunday. “In its first two weeks, about 150 faculty members from 24 states joined the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights, which was co-founded by F&M history professor Van Gosse. The nonpartisan organization’s founding comes as college students, a historically low-turnout voting group, face increasing obstacles to voting. Those obstacles include strict voter ID laws and abbreviated voting times.”
When it comes to encouraging people to vote, we’re of the all-hands-on-deck school.
We take great joy in exercising our right to vote. It’s a privilege and a duty of citizenship. And we find it hard to understand why some people treat voting as if it was an annoyance or afterthought.
We are democracy nerds on the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board. We regard elections — even off-year municipal elections — as can’t-miss events.
And presidential elections?
You couldn’t keep us from voting if you tried. (Heaven knows, COVID-19 is trying, in all senses of that word. Which is why many of us will be requesting mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election, and urging readers to consider requesting them, too.)
So we’re heartened by Gosse’s efforts to get college students to vote.
“Our job is to make sure campus administrations carry out their legal obligation to help students get out and vote,” Gosse told Geli, citing the federal Higher Education Act, which requires higher education institutions to promote and facilitate voter registration among students.
Gosse said most of the recent initiatives to encourage students to vote have been student-driven. Which is great, as students are undoubtedly best placed to talk to other students about the need to vote and the satisfaction that can be derived from casting a ballot.
But as Gosse noted, students “deserve our support.”
They do indeed, especially as the process of registering to vote can be intimidating to new voters.
The website of the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights lays out the initiative’s mission: “We believe ensuring students’ ability to exercise their right to vote is an important priority for all educators. As this year of crisis plays out, we need to be on guard against stepped-up attempts to suppress voting by students.”
As Geli reported, “Faculty members who join the network must pledge to do any of the following: provide information about voter registration and polling places during class; collaborate with student groups seeking to promote the get-out-the-vote effort; bring volunteers into their classes to help students register to vote; enlist administration and faculty for the initiative; and continue the work even upon retirement.”
Lest people worry that this is some sort of covert operation to get students to vote for Democratic candidates, the faculty network maintains that this is a strictly nonpartisan initiative.
We’d suggest that this could be ensured if faculty members of all political affiliations get involved.
In any case, the network’s website states plainly that as most universities and colleges are classified as charitable organizations by the IRS, “they must rigorously abstain from any activity that a reasonable person would conclude is an endorsement of a candidate or party.”
That website offers faculty members this guidance: “Although your student rights activism may be volunteer-based, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid language or acts that suggest support for particular candidates, or partisan agendas: we believe every student has the right to vote.”
As do we. As should everyone.
Should students opt not to return to campus, or should colleges need to remain partially or fully closed because of COVID-19, the faculty network will “make all of its members aware in real-time of how other schools are handling mail-in voting and school closings in the fall,” the website explains.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of midterm voter turnout in 2018, voters ages 18 to 53 — members of Generation Z, millennials and Generation X — actually narrowly outvoted baby boomers and older voters. (The same pattern occurred in the 2016 presidential election, the Pew analysis found.)
Amid that promising development was this discouraging reality: Only 30% of eligible voters ages 18 to 21 exercised their right to vote in 2018.
In the classroom, 30% would not just be a failing grade, but a devastating one.
So we laud Gosse and other college faculty members who want to help students to exercise their right to vote.
In February, we marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote.
In August, we’ll mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
College students need to embrace the right to vote, which was hard-won by so many before them. And let nothing — not even a pandemic — keep them from exercising that right.