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ND Votes Pushes For Sustained Political Discussion

This story was written by John Tierney, The Observer

Although ND Votes '08 will cease to exist following Election 2008, the organizers of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns-based initiative hope that political discussion will continue on campus.

"ND Votes may not have any official events, but our main goal was to facilitate political interest," ND Votes student co-chair Mallory Laurel said. "We hope that that interest will extend beyond the election."

The short-term goal of ND Votes was to increase student participation in the 2008 election, and the organizers hope that the initiative has "stirred up the kind of political and civic participation that can be continued seven days a week, 365 days a year," Laurel said.

ND Votes was organized out of the Justice Education division of the Center for Social Concerns. Laurel said this justice division, which "is in some ways an extension of the interests of ND Votes," will continue to be active in promoting political discussion on campus.

"The student justice part of the CSC will have some sort of events that remind students that although we have enacted our right to vote, we must hold candidates we elected accountable," she said.

The future CSC events will help inform students of different ways that they can hold their elected official accountable, and will "show students that they can still be participants in the political arena in an off year," Laurel said.

Laurel, who co-chaired ND Votes along with Christine Romero, hailed the Pizza, Pop and Politics roundtable series as ND Votes' most successful event.

The series featured unbiased, non-partisan discussions of different policy issues of relevance in the election. Topics of conversation included energy, social issues, the economy and foreign policy and national security.

"I think we chose really relevant topics that many students were interested in," Laurel said. "We managed to garnish a large number of students to engage in conversation and participate in discussion."

"Facilitating interest was the main goal" of the discussion roundtable series, she said.

Panelists at Pizza, Pop, and Politics events were generally professors at the university. Choosing Notre Dame professors for the panel helped in keeping the discussions non-partisan, according to Laurel.

"Most professors, especially political science professors, aren't open about partisanship," she said. "We encouraged them to address the issues of both candidates."

Although ND Votes was organized out of the Center for Social Concerns, Laurel said the Pizza, Pop and Politics events were not designed to reflect Catholic Social Teaching solely.

"We tried to keep the approach to the topics just political," she said.

However, she cited the discussion on social and moral issues as an event that was "devoted to the negotiation of the issues and a Catholic identity."

"That would be the event that we really tried to incorporate the Catholic Social Teaching that gets discussed so much on campus," Laurel said.

Laurel said that the voter registration drives ND Votes conducted on campus were successful. That success was "mainly because of our interaction with ND Votes dorm commissioners, who were really helpful registering students within their dorm, in addition to our own registering we would do at events," Laurel said.

ND Votes also sponsored lectures featuring guest speakers who come from the world of politics. The speakers included Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican who is currently rumored to be under consideration for a post in President-Elect Barack Obama's cabinet; Matthew Dalek, a former speechwriter for former House Minority Leader Richard Gepardt; and Michael Gerson, former speechwriter to George W. Bush and a columnist for The Washington Post.

The initiative was also responsible for the Popcorn and Politics film series, which featured films such as "Dr. Strangeglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

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