Voter turnout and civil discourse, college-age voters prepare for midterm elections

For college-age voters, turnout at the polls is low, but political discord is on the rise. How can the college campus encourage civil discourse among students, and how can universities ensure students are actively participating in elections?

The Lauderdale County Board of Registrars and The Flor-Ala are holding a voter registration drive in the Guillot University Center on Sept. 12 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Midterm elections do not capture the attention of most college-age voters. In 2014, only 12 percent of first-time eligible voters between the ages of 18- to 21-years-old voted, according to a report that Director of Democracy and Higher Education Nancy Thomas wrote, titled “Election Imperatives.”

Registration Board employee Emily Springer said she wants everyone to register, but she also wants students to be actively involved through the campaigning phase too.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” Springer said. “It’s hard to find information on candidates sometimes, but students should do their best to know the candidates’ top policies.”

Digital tools and social networking make it possible for people to connect and interact with different cultures, languages, socio-economic classes and political perspectives.

Associate professor Leah Graham said “slacktivism” does not help with political polarization.

Slacktivism is the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, and it is characterized as involving little effort or commitment.

Graham said the college campus is designed to be a place to meet and discuss with people beyond students’ comfort zone. She said it is important to meet people that think differently than themselves.

“Right now, the majority of the civil discourse happening on campus is at the grassroots level,” Graham said. “This is actually not a UNA problem, it’s a state problem. The state doesn’t require freshmen to take civil discourse classes like American government and political science.”

Voter turnout is low, but Graham said the reason is more complex than people think it is.

“Students are very transient, which means they move a lot,” Graham said. “A lot of times, students don’t have the time to participate in election processes, and it’s not as encouraged as it should be.”

Graham and Springer are both optimistic college-age voters will show up to the polls Nov. 6 though.

“I think the hyperpolarization, recent major news bombs and new mechanisms for social-activism will help increase voter turnout,” Graham said.

Another factor into why young Americans may have more interest in voting in this year’s midterms is the rise of women in politics and immigration policy.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics 476 filed for candidacy in the House, 54 filed to run in the Senate, 62 filed to run for governor, 119 filed for candidacy in other statewide offices and more than 2,600 filed to run in their state legislatures.

According to a poll by the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV “immigration is the leading issue on the minds of young Americans.”

President of the UNA chapter of College Democrats Grayson McGuire said the club is going to start looking into automatic voter registration that makes voting become an opt-out initiative instead of opt-in. It would automatically register voters who have had an interaction with a government agency in the past, such as getting a driver’s license.

“We also are working on finding ways to bridge the divide between the two major parties in America, such as having events that would encourage professional debate between the two to hopefully find some common ground,” McGuire said. “In the end it is all for our country and both sides want it to succeed. It is time to look past our differences and start working on ways to work together to try and close the divide between the two parties.”