EDITORIAL: Big Ten school wants big voter turnout
New initiative is beneficial, but also late in delivery
Rutgers became a part of the Big Ten in 2014, and although this signified a place in the collegiate athletic world, it has brought upon other changes too. It has allowed the University to expand its offered course list, options for study abroad and access to libraries. The honor of being a Big Ten school does not only bring a prestigious reputation but also inevitably greater responsibilities. And Rutgers seems to be taking these obligations very seriously.
Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi broadcasted the University’s new efforts to increase voter turnout among students. This initiative, implemented by every Big Ten school, is aimed to “boost civic engagement in a demographic with historically low-voter turnout.” What does this mean, exactly? New Jersey was reported to have 5.8 million registered voters. But, of those voters, only 13 percent actually voted in the gubernatorial primaries. And with Rutgers residing within this state and housing thousands of potential future leaders, it is important that we focus on motivating people to go vote.
After the 2018 elections, the school that has acquired the highest eligible voter turnout will be given a trophy. The college with the most improved turnout will be awarded as well. And with the reinforcements of campus organizations, Rutgers is trying to secure an award.
For example, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) is leading a campaign on campus called “New Voters Project.” Through this initiative, and now the support of the University, NJPIRG hopes to educate young voters on how their voice matters and also how they can reshape the political landscape.
And although these initiatives are positive for the Rutgers community, the reasoning behind these changes raises some questions.
Increasing the number of student voters at the next election is not a new priority within Rutgers, especially among its student body. Last year, students within the School of Arts and Sciences were pushing for the University to recognize all election days as school holidays and, in turn, attempted to have classes canceled. By doing this, the students hoped to show the Rutgers community that voting is extremely important. Also, canceling classes would motivate students to get out and actually vote. Students also pointed out that by canceling classes on Election Day, Rutgers would be the first Big Ten to do so, therefore making them leaders in civic engagement. Students leading this proposal even reached out to other schools that had implemented this policy and noted how beneficial it was to their student bodies. They even went as far as to gain the support of members of the Senate. Despite the lengths the students went to have this initiative come into play, it was never realized.
Of course, there could be many reasons that the University decided against canceling classes on Election Day, however it seems as though it is just beginning to put a heavy focus on student voter turnout.
Rutgers has a responsibility to push forward decisions that they feel would benefit the community even before they are encouraged by the Big Ten league. They had the opportunity to do so last year. Although encouraging students to vote is a great initiative and one that would be extremely beneficial to Rutgers, it would be more impressive on Rutgers’ part if they spearheaded these efforts earlier. Hopefully taking part in the Big Ten Voter Challenge will encourage the University to take its efforts event further.