‘Every time I go in and vote I feel proud and happy and I want all students to have that feeling’

Indiana University senior Sidney Harris has voted in previous elections. But she felt particularly proud casting her vote on the first day of early voting this year — her first presidential election.

“It felt good to vote,” said the sociology major. “I voted twice before this and I think this is the most exciting time.”

Harris, along with a couple of dozen IU students and staff, marched to the voting polls Oct. 12 as part of IU’s Walk2Vote. The event — hosted by IU’s Political and Civic Engagement program, or PACE – gave students an opportunity to come together to celebrate voting.

Harris, a member of PACE’s Student Leadership Council, helped organize the walk which was part of the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, a nationwide competition aimed at boosting student voting rates. Three additional “Walking Wednesdays” events will take place up to the election.

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Sidney Harris, a senior studying sociology, speaks at the Walk2Vote event. Photo by IU Communications.

As part of the project, council members have held voter registration drives, educated students on the process of voting and organized walking events to encourage students to cast their votes.

Lauren Godshall, a senior studying law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, worked on the voter registration committee, helping students register to vote and to answering questions they may have about voting.

Committee members visited almost every residence hall and attended a wide range of events on campus.

“It was very important to us that we reached as many different students as possible, students with different experiences, backgrounds, majors and interests, all across campus,” Godshall said. “I’m really proud of all the hard work everyone has done. We have seen a lot of people.”

Although many students were already registered, Godshall said many of them had questions about voting locations, absentee ballots and updating voter registration.

This election will be the second presidential election Godshall has voted in — she voted in the 2012 election on her 18th birthday. Her commitment to civic duty stems from the importance her family put on voting as she was growing up, her time spent in IU’s Civic Leaders Living Learning Community and her time in PACE.

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“I think it is a good, symbolic thing, to actually walk to vote,” said Harris. Photo by IU Communications.

“Voting is such a basic element to be involved in the community, from school board all the way up to the president,” she said. “It is such an amazing human right we have in this country. Every time I go in and vote I feel proud and happy and I want all students to have that feeling and know they are important, their voice matters and they need to be heard.”

For Harris, the importance of casting her ballot stems not just from concern about the issues surrounding our nation from lessons instilled in her early on.

“My own personal, academic experience has played a part in it, as well as being an African-American,” she said. “As a child my grandparents and parents made a push to help me understand and know my history. I would go on bus trips to the South with my grandmother to learn about history, so from a young age I grasped my role in this early on. I recognized how deep and how heavy the realities and the freedom are for my people, currently and in the past.”

But Harris admits that voter apathy — whether from those who feel disenfranchised because of this particular election or those who have felt it for generations – is an issue.

She said she battles some of those same feelings herself, but it doesn’t feel right to simply do nothing. That is the message she tries to teach her fellow students.

“At the end of the day you have to do what you believe is best for your conscience,” she said. “For me it doesn’t rest well with my soul and my conscience to have done nothing. Not being informed, not voting, not doing anything in your community is doing nothing. I tell folks you have options and you have to be OK with those options. Do your research and if you’re not content, think about running yourself or doing things that will make a difference in your community.”

Walking to vote, she said, is one way people can come together and actually do something.

“I think it is a good, symbolic thing, to actually walk to vote,” she said. “We are sending a message in multiple ways; we are doing this thing for democracy that is visible and symbolic to people. I think it’s awesome we are doing this in an acceptable way that is fun and welcoming and inclusive. I’m excited about that.”

Register, educate and vote

College students historically have low rates of voter turnout. Bernard Fraga, assistant professor of political science and member of the All In Campus Democracy Challenge steering committee, attributes that, in part, to a sometimes complicated registration process, particularly for students who have moved out of state, and a feeling by young people that politics do not affect their everyday lives.

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Bernard Fraga, assistant professor of political science, speaks at the event. Photo by IU Communications.

Millennials — those age 18 to 35 years of age — are currently the largest cohort in the country, Fraga said, in addition to being the most diverse, digitally connected and highly educated. They are also the least likely to vote.

“We are particularly concerned about that low voter turnout for young people because we also know from the research voting is habit forming,” he said. “So if young people don’t vote now we are worried that they won’t vote even as they age.”

Efforts such as the All In Campus Democracy Challenge are a way to educate students, encourage them to have their voices heard and allow them to see voting in a different way, Fraga said.

“It is great to see students participating and being not only interested in voting but in an event that celebrates voting,” he said. “To me, that is what is missing in the process. Voting should be a celebration. So to see students interested in celebrating our democracy, that makes me happy.”

PACE associate director Lisa-Marie Napoli, who helped bring the challenge to campus, said that working closely with students on this issue has been exciting and rewarding, particularly the recent Walk2Vote.

“I’ve been impressed with students, with how willing they are to step in and step up and help out and be a part of this,” she said. “They want to make some noise about this because it’s a really important thing. We need it in our culture, not only to revivify how we feel about each other in the larger world, with different political views, but also to know we have a part to play and we can make a difference and make an impact on the larger world and decisions that are made.”

Three additional “Walking Wednesdays” will take place at 12 p.m. Oct. 19 and 26 and Nov. 2. Students will meet at the Sample Gates and will walk to the Seventh Street voting location, 401 W. 7th St. 

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