Being well past the 50-day countdown until the presidential election, student organizations and departments have mobilized to help get eligible voters registered and informed about how they can stay civically engaged in different ways, including making sure their voting information is up to date, learning about their ballot and getting involved in the campaigns themselves.
The Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) has taken a lead in informing students on how they can be ready for Election Day following National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday. Typically, its staff would host in-person activities and hand out different informative flyers from its department and community partners, but due to COVID-19, all the events will be held on Microsoft Teams.
“If we weren’t in ‘COVID land,’ we would be hosting tabling outside of the [Marshall Student Center] and around places on campus, but we are in ‘COVID land,’ so tabling is happening via [Microsoft Teams],” said Director of the CLCE Mike Severy.
The CLCE is trying to inform students on early voting and mail-in ballots, which it has been heavily promoting due to the pandemic.
“[Mail-in voting] would align with the encouragement that we are providing students — to avoid large crowds and remain socially distanced and all of those particular pieces,” said Severy. “This year, we anticipate, as do people across the United States, that there will be a large turnout for voting, and so to best keep our community safe we will encourage folks to utilize mail-in voting to the degree that they are able to do so.”
The CLCE will be hosting an upcoming event Oct. 7 called “Navigating Down the Ballot” that will help voters learn how to inform themselves about everything on their ballot — local and state positions as well as other legislative races — not just the presidential candidates.
“Everybody hears about the presidential elections, but there’s always so many other state and local election pieces and other legislation that comes up for voters to vote on, so making sure that folks know where to find information and figure out how they want to vote in advance of doing so when you’re standing at the poll that you’re an informed citizen [is important],” said Severy.
College Democrats at USF are also advocating for people to choose the mail-in voting option to cast their ballot in the upcoming election.
“We did a livestream on Instagram about vote-by-mail because that’s something we’re really trying to push because of the coronavirus,” said Sarah Glaser, President of College Democrats at USF.
Glaser also works for the Florida Democratic Party and is the chair of Florida Students for Biden at USF, and she has tried to intersect each organization’s activities as the presidential election gets closer.
“We’re volunteering with the Florida Democratic Party as well — they’ve just started this voter protection hotline, so anyone can call the hotline if they’re having issues with getting registered to vote or getting their mail-in ballot, so we’re doing a volunteer training program for that so that students can be volunteers with the voter protection hotline,” said Glaser.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to get involved in not just campaigning for a candidate, but working on expanding access to voting in the Tampa Bay area and to students at USF.”
College Republicans at USF have also taken advantage of their connections with political parties and campaigns outside of USF. Since the virtual switch, they’ve been encouraging their members to find other ways to be active.
“We’re telling people if we can’t do anything as the College Republicans, if you want to get involved in the campaign that’s the best way to be active in the election right now,” said President of College Republicans at USF Julia Johnston.
From tablings to in-person events, College Republicans at USF have found themselves unable to do many activities due to USF’s prohibition of in-person gatherings on and off campus. Johnston finds virtual activities not as engaging as what they had originally planned to do at events such as Bull Market and for Voter Registration Day.
“We’re pretty frustrated this year that we’re not really allowed to do anything in person,” said Johnston. “We had a lot planned with the election coming up, and it kind of sucks that we have to do everything virtually.”
However, the College Republicans at USF have found success in the virtual world with finding guest speakers to attend their general body meetings.
“We’ve been able to get some speakers, some local politicians to come and speak to our members,” said Johnston. “I think we’ve actually been able to get more speakers now just because the election is coming up and a lot of people who are running are trying to get their name out there, get people to vote for them.”
The CLCE, College Republicans at USF and College Democrats at USF seem to all concur on the importance of being active in more than just the presidential campaigns.
“We are also pushing not just voting for the presidential candidate, but voting for other positions on the ballot, especially local and statewide positions because that’s something that definitely affects students at USF and the people in Tampa Bay,” said Glaser.
The divisiveness of the upcoming election is another consideration for those at the CLCE as they plan to host events on how to navigate the world after the election.
“There’s more to being a civically minded and democratically engaged citizen in the United States than just voting. There’s the next process of ‘now what?’ depending on who wins and how that aligns or doesn’t align with your particular political perspective,” said Severy.
“We’re working on a variety of different [activities] to ensure that students practice leadership and civic engagement as we talk about it, controversy and civility with others, having productive conversations across differences, whatever sort of difference that may be and continuing to be an active citizen.”
While those activities are still in the brainstorming stage, the focus for the CLCE, College Republicans at USF and College Democrats at USF will be to continue encouraging the USF community to be active in local, state and national democratic processes.
“I think the biggest issue is getting people excited to vote, especially getting people excited and educated about local candidates,” said Glaser. “Getting people educated about who they could vote for as local candidates can be a little difficult to do because I know a lot of college students know who they’re going to vote for for president but don’t necessarily know about the other names on the ballot — but it’s important.”