Representatives from several University ofMassachusetts campus groups joined together Tuesday to start planning how to raise the level of student voter registration as the 2008 presidential election draws near.
The group, called "The Voter Registration Coalition" consists of representatives from the SGA, UMass Democrats, Civic Initiative, MassPIRG and the Women of Color Leadership Network. Various other student organizations such as the UMass Republican Club and Greek Affairs have also conveyed an interest in an involvement in the coalition.
Each representative held clear ideas at their first meeting about how they were going to accomplish their goal and why it was important for this upcoming election in particular.
Jon Chase, Internal Affairs Coordinator for MassPIRG said voting is "the basic block of democracy," while Katy Perry, MassPIRG Campus Organizer shared a story of her Polish immigrant grandmother, who values the right to vote so much, she claims that she will make it to the polls for the rest of her life. president of the UMass Democrats, Emma Einhorn, said that in this election there is "a definite possibility that we can affect the outcome."
While each organization has resources and plans of their own, Shane Coleman, SGA Secretary of External Affairs, made the point that each group has, "different strengths, all useful," but emphasized that if they combined their strengths, they could yield much greater results.
This unity will be necessary to reach their goal of registering 9,000 voters before the general election voter registration deadline for Massachusetts - Oct. 15. The UMass Dems have already gained on that goal with the 200 students they have registered so far.
Several key strategies were discussed, each aimed at reaching a variety of students. The UMass Dems constructed 300 bulletin board kits to be distributed to resident assistants on campus designed to inform students how and when they can register to vote.
Other dorm-oriented strategies were examined such as "dorm storms," in which volunteers go door-to-door supplying residents with information and answering any questions they might have.
Floor events, involving games such as "Jeopardy" are aimed at providing an education of voter registration in a non-invasive, easy access manner. Setting up tables in the Campus Center and hitting classrooms, from large to small, are also on the agenda.
In addition to preparing information about registering and providing the forms to do so, the coalition aspires to maximize voter turnout. They plan to utilize the contact list of voters they have registered to offer e-mail and even text message reminders for Election Day.
However, failure to remember isn't the only obstacle in getting students to vote. Lack of transportation to polling stations is often a much larger impediment for on campus students to get around. The SGA will again provide vans to three different polling locations in Amherst for the six different residential areas. Last year two vans were rented, this year SGA president Malcolm Chu hopes to raise that number to three or four to accommodate the greater projected turnout.
While voter registration and turnout are the principal concerns of the coalition, many members, including Chu hope students will vote with an eye toward higher education. Wearing a T-shirt, emblazoned with a bold "Education is a Right," Chu cited that while "accessibility has decreased, the price of education has gone up exponentially in the last 10 years. 1996 was the last fee freeze that UMass students have seen."
He strongly believes it is necessary for students to vote and to develop their own legislation i order to affect the educational standards applied to them.
Students can obtain information online by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the Facebook group, UMASSVotes.