As election season approaches in November, many students at USF have been encouraged to complete or renew their voter registration forms by the environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee NextGen America.
Representatives of the organization have been entering classrooms and lecture halls to explain the process of voter registration and aiding students in the completion of the task.
NextGen America’s push for USF students to register in time for Florida’s midterm election has been aided by inside organizations such as Student Government, according to flyers passed around campus regarding registration meet-and-greet events.
Some first-time voters on campus question the reasons as to why NextGen America is urging them to vote. A concern among the student body is in regard to whether the push from NextGen America to register comes from a love of democracy and political participation, or an agenda to create more young, likely liberal voters.
Carly Cass, NextGen America’s State Youth Director of Florida, admits that younger voters lead to more Democrats in office.
“It is an election year, and we want to get as many people to the polls as possible,” Cass said. “Of course, we know when young people show up progressive candidates are elected. We want to make sure that the candidates that are elected represent the community, and the university is part of the community.”
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, millennials remain the most liberal and Democratic of adult generations. Young people comprise almost five times as many liberal voters as conservatives.
A singular political party representing USF’s community is not so cut and dry, as there exists not only student-run Democratic organizations on campus, but Republican as well. USF College Democrats and USF College Republicans are yearly funded organizations that any student is free to join.
Pete Wagner, a sophomore majoring in political science and registered Democrat, questions the true motives of the organization during its classroom visits.
“I actually think getting more students to register to vote is great,” Wagner said. “After a representative came into my class and helped my peers register to vote, I looked into who NextGen America was and became a little confused. I am actually liberal myself, but I still feel there should have been more transparency as to why NextGen America wants young students to vote so bad.”
NextGen America’s official website states the Youth Vote Program’s intentions are to, “… help progressives flip Congress, win governor’s races, and take back state legislatures.” With such a definitive motivation, some students are left confused over the organization’s lack of transparency regarding the movement to register new voters.
Candice Anderson, a freshman, and newly registered Republican, expressed concern over feeling alienated as a conservative on campus.
“American campuses are already very liberal, and being a conservative is not always a comfortable thing to be,” Anderson said. “I’ve learned to not take personally my own professors speaking their views to me, but when strangers come into the classroom and say, ‘We want more young people to vote!’ I know that’s code for, ‘We want more Democrats,’ and I’m feeling left a little out of place.”
Bob Camel, president of the USF College Republicans, has no issue with NextGen America helping students register to vote so long as they are not influential.
“There’s nothing wrong with telling people they should go vote,” Camel said. “A moral issue only arises if you try to influence them a certain way.”
According to a study by the National Association of Scholars, there are more than 10 professors affiliated with the Democratic Party for every faculty member who is a registered Republican.
Mitchell Langbert, the author of the study, has said, “The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic,” according to data he found.
James Ramoni, a junior majoring in marketing and self-proclaimed Independent, said he felt as though NextGen America only saw him as an extra vote for blue.
“When NextGen America came into my classroom, they did not mention their political affiliation once,” Ramoni said. “I was happy to register to vote, but after finding out why I was asked to register, I felt like a pawn in someone else’s game.”
Voting is a right that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, should feel comfortable fulfilling, according to Camel.
“It is somebody’s civic duty to vote, that’s the right they have as a citizen of this great country,” Camel said. “I have no problem with [NextGen America] exercising it, even if my opinions differ from them. The organization itself may be very left, but I only think it is an issue if they’re trying to influence our students a certain way.”