Voter registration offers new choice

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

The Student Government Association and the Office of Student Engagement launched a 50-state voter registration drive at Columbia Aug. 30 during U-Pass distribution on campus in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election in November.

The groups have partnered with the League of Women Voters to register students both in state and out of state, according to SGA President Cassandra Norris.

Some Columbia students might not be natives of either Chicago or Illinois, but their vote can count in Cook County with proof of residency, Norris said. In order to register, two forms of identification—one with a current address—are required, according to Carma Forgie, a registrar and 53-year member of the League of Women Voters.

Naturalization papers are needed for citizens born outside the U.S., Forgie said.

“We’re going to try to get as many people to register as possible because not only does SGA advocate for the student voice, but we’re excited about getting Columbia’s voice into the vote,” Norris said.

The 1993 Motor Voter Act allows voters with proof of address to register where they live. Students who choose to vote in their home states will receive absentee ballots to participate in their local elections, Forgie said.

Norris said 113 students registered to vote, as of press time. The results support the idea that face-to-face contact is more effective when it comes to encouraging new voters to register than the Internet, according to Michael Peshkin, professor at Northwestern University and adviser to the group NU Chooses, which registered voters across Northwestern’s campus in 2008.

Peshkin said most people ignore emails that encourage direct action.

“Students wonder, ‘How can it be OK to get the choice of voting here or voting there?’ It is OK,” Peshkin said. “When you walk up to somebody and say, ‘Are you registered to vote? We’ll help you; we’ll take care of you right this minute,’ people do it.”

Forgie said Illinois state laws are easier to work with than other states where school IDs and social security cards are sometimes not accepted. She said in Texas, however, a gun license is sufficient for voter registration.

Alan Harris, a sophomore majoring in business, seized the chance to register. Harris turned 18 less than one month after 2008’s Election Day.

“I already had my mind set that I wanted to vote, Harris said. “I feel like everyone should vote, and if you don’t then you really can’t complain about how the government is run.”

Voter registration doesn’t interest everyone, Forgie said. A lack of reliable information about candidates leads many students to decline registration.

“They don’t know who to vote for anyway, so it doesn’t matter; they just say no,” she said. “I think that’s very sad. Who’s in office really does make a difference.”