From left, Patrick Mehler ’23, Kiran Ganga ’24 and John Hanna ’24 are members of Cornell Votes.

Student group promotes peer voter registration by Oct. 9

Equipped with Zoom rooms, Instagram, Facebook, tweets and texts – social distancing tools in the age of COVID-19 – a group of students is demystifying the mechanics of voter registration and casting a ballot.

The approximately 50 students are members of Cornell Votes, a universitywide, nonpartisan group seeking to increase civic engagement on campus, and promote voter registration and turnout. Amy Somchanhmavong, associate director of the Cornell Public Service Center, and Sage Clemenco, community initiatives associate, serve as advisers.

For many students, the polling process is new.

Cornell impacting New York State

“We've noticed this semester that it isn’t that students don't want to vote or that they're apathetic. It’s the opposite: We see incredible enthusiasm from students for voting,” said Shruti Kanna ’22, Cornell Votes’ community engagement chair.

Kanna said students want to know how to properly fill out a voter registration card, how and where to vote, or whether to vote in person, mail it in or cast by absentee ballot.

“We’re just giving them resources and a space to actually learn about the election process,” Kanna said.

The group reminds all citizens that Oct. 9 is the last day to register in New York.

Upcoming events include:

  • Sept. 30 – Online “office hours” for any questions, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Cornell Votes and the Tatkon Center for First-Year Students.
  • Oct. 5 – The semester’s last online voter registration drive, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Hosted by Cornell Votes, Cornell Republicans, Cornell Democrats and the Cornell Political Union.

On Sept. 22, which was National Voter Registration Day, the group invited Ithaca-area officials to a community Zoom event to discuss the importance of making voting voices heard.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 told students that politicians pay attention to registered voters.

“You might wake up on Election Day and wish you had a chance to vote,” he said. “And unless you’ve registered, you will remain invisible to voice your opinion on issues that are important to you … I’ve seen Cornell students make a world of difference.”

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, became a naturalized U.S. citizen nearly a quarter-century ago.

“I remember filling out that form and voting in my very first presidential election in 1996,” she said. “As a naturalized citizen, I know what it’s like to earn that right to vote. I encourage young people to register, show up, vote and let your voice be heard.”

Are registration drives successful? Tufts University tracks college voting rates through the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement report. In 2014, there were 8,963 Cornell students registered to vote, according to the report. Only 1,511 of them, approximately 17%, voted.

The totals leapt significantly in 2018: Of 14,187 Cornell students registered to vote, 6,293 of them voted – approximately 44%.

Each member of Cornell Votes has spent untold hours planning workshops, staffing office hours, creating informational videos and answering questions. Cornell Votes is competing against the other Ivy Leagues schools to see which school can get more students registered and to vote.

“Our organization’s Google calendar is very busy,” said Patrick Mehler ’23, the group’s president. “We’re doing as much voter registration as possible. We’re moving at a high speed, doing a lot of things. I’m very proud of our group.”

Cornell Votes is supported by the Cornell Public Service Center and the Andrew Goodman Foundation.

For more details on the group’s upcoming activities, visit their Instagram and Facebook pages.

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Abby Butler