Kishwaukee College in Malta has many students who have or will reach voting age. But education instructor Cynthia de Seife said some of these students had misconceptions.
“A while back, I was doing voter registration here at the college and some students were saying how they don’t vote, they don’t ever vote, their vote doesn’t count," she said. " And I thought, 'No. This is a college. No no no. This is not okay. We can do better than that.'”
The college launched a series of events called "Let’s Vote." de Seife said the first goal is closing the information gap.
“Voting is actually a simple task, but there are lots of components to your ballot that people might not understand. 'I don’t know what that job is. I don’t know who those people are. I don’t understand the issues. I don’t know what to vote for.'”
Student Body President Albert Warnaar said the other is “localizing” races for each student.
“We’re local as in we’re west of Chicago, but within that there’s many places," he said. "So things to consider are where to vote. That’s a big question, especially around here because people are in different counties. They don’t vote in the same place.”
Voter registration is handled by volunteers from within the college and groups such as the League of Women Voters. Patricia Vary with the League said the process goes smoothly, for the most part.
“A lot of them have come here are staying in a different place than their home, so sometimes their driver’s license is their home address and we have to make sure where they are now and get that on the registration," said Vary.
After registration comes voter education. Above all, Warnaar said it needed to be nonpartisan.
“Even down to our form, the issues on our information form are specifically alphabetical, not at all related to issue importance."
Instead of bringing in advocates from parties or interest groups, educators from the college sit down with individual students and guide them to different resources. de Seife said they make use of three websites in particular.
“Civics 2.0 teaches about government and voting. Vote411.org is a League of Women Voters website. If you give it your address, it will tell you your voting precinct and your voting districts, and votesmart.org is a wonderful website that’s just a database full of information about all kinds of candidates.”
Warnaar said these databases also help localize a student’s local races.
“We have the different websites for the different counties, and the volunteers will run them through the website and say, 'Okay, in your county, these are your candidates, and each candidate usually has a website, and you can go to their website and look at their things.' It’s pretty specific," he said. "That’s why we have the volunteers sit down individually with people.”
Overall, response to this approach has been positive among students. Cassandra Krusac is a student from Illinois near St. Louis.
“It went really well. It was easy. It made sense, it was very straightforward. I had all the information on me. I didn’t have to bring in anything that wasn’t already in my wallet or anything. It was wonderful.”
Issues remain varied among the student body. For Krusac, these include human rights and the environment.
“Mother Earth could wipe us from the face of the planet if she wanted, and we just need to correct to just make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.
Another student, Cameron Pratt of the Indianapolis area, is concerned about U.S. military action.
“Whether we might happen to be launching a war effort that may or may not be necessary or anything like that and just making the right decision overall on that situation, cause war costs money and we don’t have it,” he said.
The first “Let’s Vote” event had volunteers completely occupied within the first half hour. Kishwaukee College will hold more of these events once per week on different days for the entire month of February. de Seife, Warnaar, and the other organizers hope it can both inform more students and bring them further into the democratic process.
In 2020, YOU’RE the boss at the ballot box. This year, we’ll be listening as you share what issues are important to you and what you want candidates to know about your community. You’re the Boss is a collaboration with Illinois Newspapers of the USA Today Network. Additional support comes from a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.