With the voter registration deadline 19 days away, NJPIRG holds tabling events around campus
The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG) is working to register Rutgers students to vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election on Nov. 7.
Until the registration deadline on Oct. 17, the organization will be holding tabling events around campus where volunteers provide voter registration forms for NJPIRG to collect and submit to the county office.
John Bacchus, Rutgers' campus organizer for NJPIRG, said college students are among the least likely demographics to vote and that this is especially true for state elections in New Jersey.
Federal elections are prevalent in the national media, but because much of New Jersey's local news comes from New York City and Philadelphia, state elections receive little media coverage. Consequently, only 17 percent of eligible millennial voters participated in New Jersey's last gubernatorial election in 2014, Bacchus said.
“When it comes to state and local elections, most people are uninformed and therefore disengaged, particularly young people,” he said. “Students here have classes to worry about, careers to worry about, relationships, all the other stuff that comes with being 18 to 24. But we are the state's largest and most diverse demographic.”
Bacchus said that people who vote in the first election that they are eligible to participate in are statistically more likely to become lifelong voters.
He said that while registering students to vote, NJPIRG also encourages them to fill out a pledge to vote, which includes contact information. In the days leading up to the election, NJPIRG sends students reminders to vote.
“People don't realize. They're like, 'Oh yeah, I'm registered.' Meanwhile, they're registered in their hometown like 40 miles away,” Bacchus said. “And then Tuesday at noon, they have classes all day and then homework to do. No one is gonna go 40 miles to cast a ballot. So this is one of the ways we keep in touch with them and let them know, if you wanna cast your ballot, you should just re-register so that you can walk five minutes from your dorm and go into the little booth and pull the lever.”
NJPIRG's New Voters Project coincides with the Big Ten's voter registration challenge, "Vote B1G." In "Vote B1G," each of the 14 Big Ten universities provides information on how many new voters it has registered. According to the "Vote B1G" website, Rutgers has registered 3,773 new voters, putting it in fourth place.
Pennsylvania State University is winning the challenge with 16,626 new voters. Also ahead of Rutgers is the University of Maryland with 4,847 new voters and the University of Minnesota with 8,417.
NJPIRG's goal is to register 750 students as new voters by the Oct. 17 deadline, said Logan Adams, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and the campaign coordinator for NJPIRG's New Voters Project.
So far, NJPIRG has registered about 100 new voters, he said. There have been several tabling events on the College Avenue campus. The first one on Cook/Douglass was on Wednesday, with more planned for the upcoming weeks.
“You've got some people who are more than willing to come register to vote, while for other people it's a bit more like swallowing a pill,” Adams said. “Some people are less receptive than others. We try and get everyone we can. We go up to literally everybody and we just try to see at the very least if they're registered and if they're gonna be going on Nov. 7.”
Bacchus said that campaigning this way is a major time commitment for NJPIRG's volunteers. Therefore NJPIRG is also working to put systems in place for students to register more easily.
NJPIRG is trying to coordinate with student organizations, like clubs and fraternities and sororities, to register their members en masse, he said. The fraternity Beta Chi Theta was the first greek organization to register all of its members to vote.
“We're hopeful that more student clubs and organizations that have people in some sort of system will just put their whole system through the voter registration process because it's more outreach faster,” Bacchus said. “Eventually the goal here is to have Rutgers University be the whole system that runs itself through voter registration so that NJPIRG can focus on all of the other things we care about.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.