On-campus polling site relocates to Events Center
Amidst the many other changes on campus this fall, the on-campus polling place will move to the Events Center in November. The University, which encompasses three of Vestal’s 19 election districts, has hosted an on-campus polling site for residential students since at least the 1970s, according to Christina Dutko, the democratic deputy commissioner at the Broome County Board of Elections (BOE). Historically the polling site was located in the Mandela Room or Old Union Hall in the Union, but the move to the Events Center will provide additional room for social distancing, and the Union spaces will remain available for COVID-19 testing and other pandemic-related needs.
Student-led voter engagement
As the nation prepares for a contentious election season amid a continued nationwide outcry for equality and justice, students on campus are increasingly showing interest, not only in participating in the electoral process, but in getting their peers involved as well.
A team of student staff, working with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), has been coordinating programming and outreach efforts to share voter registration, education and get-out-the-vote resources across campus. The team is comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, including three Vote Everywhere Ambassadors supported by the Andrew Goodman Foundation and interns who are providing targeted outreach to students in the School of Management and the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science (two populations of students identified as less likely to vote than their peers in a 2019 report by Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, which was based on Binghamton University’s 2018 student voting rate). Students have been an integral part of the CCE’s voter engagement strategy since the office was created in 2010.
“Our students know their peers best and can use their network to connect with other students and make a real difference in encouraging voter turnout,” said Alison Handy Twang, associate director of the CCE.
This year’s efforts — like most things in higher education and the world at large — look a little different thanks to the pandemic and the shift to a more virtual world, but a robust effort is underway, which began with helping over 550 students register to vote or request an absentee ballot during move-in week.
The team is also delivering virtual presentations during classes as requested by faculty — the rate of requests has more than doubled over last year — and, in response to requests from faculty teaching asynchronous classes, the CCE developed several short instructional videos walking students through their options and how to fill out the forms. A secure drop box is available outside the CCE office so that students can drop off registration forms when the office isn’t open, and the team is also holding regular tabling hours on the Peace Quad and Spine to assist students with voting-related questions or concerns. Every form turned in to the CCE is reviewed for errors to help ensure there are no unnecessary delays in getting students’ forms processed by the Board of Elections (BOE).
“Registering to vote and voting on Election Day are acts of participation in our democracy,” said Shelli Cohen, a Vote Everywhere Ambassador and senior math major. “By doing this work, I’m training my peers to live civically engaged lives and ensuring that the student population gets proper representation. I’m strengthening our democracy.”
The move of the polling place to the Events Center was also brought about in part by a new partnership between Binghamton University Athletics and the CCE. Over the summer, student-athletes found themselves engaging in conversations about the increased national attention on issues of racial justice. They subsequently identified promoting student participation in the electoral process as a concrete step they could take toward launching a larger civic engagement initiative addressing these issues.
“There was a lot of interest from our student-athletes in wanting to make a difference and do something tangible that could help get their peers registered and engaged in the voting process,” said Nadine Mastroleo, an associate professor of psychology and the faculty advisor to athletics. “We have a passionate group of nine student athletes, representing eight Binghamton University athletic teams, that plans to continue working after the election to combat and raise awareness of social injustice within our community.”
The students received training and resources from the CCE, and they have been registering their peers to vote ever since.
“I was excited about the formation of this committee because I know that student-athletes are generally a demographic that may not always be informed of the voting process due to our busy and complex schedules,” said junior Tyra Wilson, a member of the women’s volleyball team majoring in rhetoric and global culture and minoring in Spanish. “Even more than that, I really wanted to have a part in increasing voter engagement on campus in any way that I can, and this group provided the perfect opportunity for that.”
“The students have shown incredible leadership and taken initiative to reach out to teams,” said Twang. “They have even gone beyond the services typically provided by the CCE by giving additional help to out-of-state athletes who choose to stay registered at home.”
“Being an out-of-state student myself,” said Wilson, “I understand how that perspective can complicate the voting process even further, so I wanted to use my personal experience to help others so they wouldn’t have the same obstacles I did.”
Campus-wide voter engagement efforts
In addition to the partnership with athletics, the CCE works with faculty; staff; student groups; community organizations, like the Broome County BOE and the League of Women Voters of Broome and Tioga Counties; and national organizations, like the Andrew Goodman Foundation, to run a nationally recognized voter engagement program. Binghamton University has been named a Voter Friendly Campus by the Campus Vote Project and NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) for the past three years due to the comprehensive nature of the program.
“Binghamton has taken an institutional approach to voter engagement, reaching students through a variety of channels including orientation, class meetings, residential communities and student organizations,” said Twang. “We work together to reduce the unique barriers that college students face when voting. Together we’ve made a real difference in increasing student participation in the democratic process, with Binghamton’s student voting rate increasing in every local, state and federal election since 2012.”
Students can contact the Center for Civic Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-777-4287 or stop by the office in UU-137 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays for help with registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot or any other voting-related questions or concerns. Forms and more information are available on the CCE’s website. Faculty can request virtual class presentations online.