By LAUREN OWEN
Students vote because some see it as their civic duty, and some see it as a way to make their voices heard in a state that might not always reflect their ideals. In the current political climate, students do not always try to make their voices heard, despite wanting change.
Over 2 million people were registered to vote in the state of Oklahoma. Lauren Schueler, the director of the N.E.W. (National Education for Women’s) leadership and civic education, which educates women to participate in politics, said 76 percent of University of Oklahoma students were registered to vote in the 2016 elections. Of those students, 64 percent actually voted.
Schueler has been working with the Carl Albert Center at OU since 2015. In that time, she said she has seen a shift in engagement. She said this past midterm had the largest youth turnout in decades.
In the last midterm, the national youth vote was 31 percent, going up from the 2014 midterms that had a rate of 21 percent. Schueler said that voting rates for the OU campus are taken from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement from Tufts University.
In the 2014 midterms, the voting rate at OU was 16 percent. While the Carl Albert Center does not have the data from the 2018 midterms, she said she hopes that percentage will jump drastically.
Voter turnout during the 2016 election was low compared to the previous elections up to 1996. In the 2016 elections, 55.4 percent of people voted and only 46 percent were people ages 18 to 24.
OU has many on-campus resources to encourage voting among its students. The Carl Albert Center has many resources to make the voting process simpler.
The Carl Albert Center has resources for students and faculty to look up their legislators, as well as the state questions, how to complete an absentee ballot, how to check your current voting status and important dates and times the help tables are going to be set up in Bizzell Library or in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
There are student organizations for all different kinds of political parties. The two main organizations are the College Republicans and the College Democrats.
Wesley Forbes, the president of the College Democrats, voted in the 2016 election. However, this was not his first time to vote.
Forbes has voted in a mix of presidential and minor elections since he turned 18. He still votes at the age of 23.
“I see it as a civic responsibility,” Forbes said. “I’m a part of a society that requires the opinions of all the citizens so I need to give my opinion and if I don’t give my voice it’s going to be ignored.”
Forbes said he believes that people, particularly college students, are voting more in general. He said most issues that are in the foreground relate to student issues and he thinks that more issues that pertain to students will get more students to vote.
Voting ID laws and a lack of same-day registration has made voting harder for students, Forbes said. However, he said that he thinks it has become more worthwhile to go through the voting process.
When there was a push to legalize medical marijuana, many people went to vote because they wanted to change the legislature. Many people do not vote until it is something that matters to them, Forbes said.
Forbes said that he encourages his friends to go out and vote. Since Forbes is in the political science department, his professors also push students to vote.
While there are many outside forces that could make someone vote, Forbes said that he would have voted regardless of any outside pressure.
The challenge Forbes faced when he voted for the first time in 2014 was that he was registered to vote in his hometown. He had to drive 50 miles outside of Tulsa to vote and barely made it in time. Things are less complicated for him now, as he is re-registered in Norman.
While many students might change their political views once they go to college, Forbes said he had always been pretty liberal. However, he said that he is now more informed.
Forbes knows plenty of people whose views took a more liberal stance once they went to college, however, he said that he does not know anyone who changed their platform from liberal to conservative.
On the other half of the two main political party groups is the College Republicans. Logan Schoonover, the president of the College Republicans, voted in the midterm election this past November. She had to fill out an absentee ballot from Colorado.
Unlike Forbes, Schoonover did not get to vote in the 2016 elections because of her age. She did not have to go back to her state to vote in the midterms. Instead, she researched online and figured out how to fill out her absentee ballot, which she said made things easier.
Like Forbes, Schoonover believes that more college students are voting. She thinks that more media attention and celebrity endorsement has helped bring more people out to vote.
However, Schoonover thinks there are things keeping students away from voting. One such thing is the polarization between parties that she has noticed.
Schoonover said that a lot of people vote because they don’t like what they are seeing and she feels that it is her civic duty to vote.
“I feel like it’s kind of my way to voice the things that I feel,” Schoonover said. “When you go to the polls you’re showing what you believe in.”
Schoonover said that there are a lot of resources at OU that help get people ready to vote. Beyond the resources offered by the Carl Albert Center, the university offers students free rides to the polls for those who do not have means of transportation.
Schoonover has always had a strong interest in politics. She said that she thought conservative voices in Denver were not heard.
Like many students, she said her mindset changed when she started to do more adult things in college, such as the income taxes she will soon have to pay. She is concerned about the lack of jobs for students after graduation.
The College Republicans have approximately 30 people at meetings, 110 people on the GroupMe, and many students outside of those numbers who go to campaigning events to volunteer their time. Seeing this participation encourages Schoonover to vote.
Another encouragement Schoonover said she has is that her family is a military family. She said that people in the military died for others to get the right to vote.
Professors influence students by expressing their usually liberal ideas, Schoonover said. Likewise, the media and their parents influence their students to vote. Schoonover said that most people will vote similar to their parents.
Schoonover said she thinks there are a lot of people not thinking for themselves because of professor’s influence. She said she thinks they are entitled to their beliefs, but she does not think they should push the ideas onto their students when people are in vulnerable situation.
“People are trying to find their identities on campus and like figure out who they are,” Schoonover said. “So they shouldn’t have a professor that they’re trying to learn from cloud their judgment with that.”
Dr. Keith Gaddie, who is the President’s Associates Presidential professor of political science, said that he had always tried to go out and vote.
Gaddie believes that if you come from a family of voters, then you will be more likely to vote. He said he experienced this by being in a family of politically active people.
His own kids are registered to vote. He votes because he believes it is his civic duty and that it is important to have input on the process.
The first time Gaddie voted was in the 1984 presidential primary in his hometown of Fisherville, Kentucky. He said voting in the midterms this November was easier than voting in the ‘80s because of the ease of access and resources to help people vote.
Gaddie said that families of a higher socioeconomic status are more likely to vote than those of low socioeconomic status. Likewise, white and African American people are more likely to vote. People who have been to college are more likely to vote than those who did not receive a college education.
To make voting easier, Gaddie thinks that there should be a total opt-in when you turn 18. This way, you are automatically registered to vote and now can choose to vote or not without the worry of being registered.
There are some forces that try to keep people away, though most voter suppression comes from the right, Gaddie said. However, Gaddie said that the law tries to keep this from happening.
Motivation to vote Democrat is usually caused by dissatisfaction with the Trump administration. About 70 percent of 18-24 year old voters went all Democrat in the past election, Gaddie said.
Gaddie said that people might not vote because they are not registered. However, approximately 70 percent of eligible voters are registered and actively vote in elections, Gaddie said.
Something that could keep people from voting is that they think their vote will not matter. A large number of voters could make someone think their voice will not be heard and therefore their party will lose.
In the electorate, young voters have a low turnout. However, the midterm elections had a higher rate of voting than it had before. Even so, many students still do not vote.
Voting has changed over the years, but one thing still stands-students do not always vote. Whether changes need to be made or not is something many discuss while trying to persuade more to go vote.