With gubernatorial elections on horizon, Eagleton Institute encourages voter turnout at Rutgers

<p>The Eagleton Institute of Politics is working to increase voter turnout at Rutgers through its Youth Political Participation Program (YPPP), which runs initiatives like RU Voting. The organization helps to register voters, spread information and encourage students to get to the polls.</p>

The Eagleton Institute of Politics is working to increase voter turnout at Rutgers through its Youth Political Participation Program (YPPP), which runs initiatives like RU Voting. The organization helps to register voters, spread information and encourage students to get to the polls.

According to NPR, the millennial generation continues to have the lowest voter turnout of any other age demographic. The 2016 presidential election received votes from only 46 percent of millennials, compared to 72 percent of the Silent Generation, made up of individuals aged 71 and over.

The Eagleton Institute of Politics is taking strides to increase voter turnout in Rutgers students through its Youth Political Participation Program (YPPP), which puts out voter registration initiatives like RU Voting.

“The overall goals of the program are to increase the number of students registered to vote, increase knowledge of ongoing elections and increase the number of students actually turning out to vote on election day,” said Rhiannon Jones, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and a member of RU Voting.

RU Voting provides a number of resources for students from voter registration drives, where students can ask questions regarding the logistics of voting, to shuttles that students can take to their polling sites on election day, Jones said.

Last year, the organization succeeded in registering 1,100 students through voter registration drives, said Brendan Keating, the programming coordinator for the YPPP.

Coordinators for RU Voting stressed the importance of helping students work out these details of registration before election day.

“It's important that, if you're going to be a first-time voter when you show up, you know that your vote is going to be counted. If you get turned away, that could really be a deterrent,” Keating said.

RU Voting is unique in its non-partisan status, which means the organization has no intention to persuade students toward any specific ideology. Faculty and student members for RU Voting simply want students to participate in elections, no matter their viewpoints, Keating said.

“We will never call you up and tell you how to vote. Our only goal is to make sure that if you want to vote and you are eligible, we help you out with that process,” he said.

The organization is working to create a community, within the larger institution of Rutgers University, where political literacy and voting is encouraged by putting on interesting programs.

Last year during the 2016 presidential election, RU Voting partnered with various clubs, like Residence Life and the Rutgers University Programing Association (RUPA), to hold debate watch parties, Keating said.

The organization has also partnered with the Rutgers Debate Union for programs like "Pizza and Politics," where students can watch members of the Debate Union argue about relevant political issues, he said.

“While you may be going there to eat some pizza or get extra credit for one of your classes, you're also getting probably more knowledge about what the policy positions are than you would from an actual TV debate,” Keating said of the "Pizza and Politics" programs.

Moving forward, RU Voting plans to begin initiatives to encourage students to vote in the New Jersey gubernatorial election of 2017. Primaries for this election will take place on June 6.

Elizabeth Matto, assistant research professor and director of the YPPP, stressed the importance of this governor’s election for the students of Rutgers University, although it widely does not get much attention.

“Tuition rates, the quality of your facilities, how much financial aid you get, so much of that is influenced by who is serving in (the governor’s) office. These are areas that students can really make a difference,” Matto said.

Organizations like RU Voting are here to remind students that voting is something that should be an important aspect of every citizen’s life. It is not something that should be limited to political science majors, Matto said.

“Democratic citizenship is certainly not reserved for one discipline, it should be multidisciplinary, and even more than that, it should be integrated into the culture of the campus,” she said.

Coordinators and members of RU Voting agreed that all students should vote because of the significant impact politics make in their daily lives.

The impact of politics is all-encompassing, and whether it is welcomed or not, all citizens will be affected by the decisions made by elected politicians, Jones said.

“(Voting) is one of many ways to engage with the political process, make your voice heard and impact who makes up your governing bodies and thus who has the power to make the decisions that affect every aspect of your life,” she said. “Why would anyone who has been afforded that opportunity voluntarily give it up?”

Mary Ellen Dowd is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Journalism and Media Studies. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. 

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