With general election approaching, college campuses rush to register voters

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By Michaela Kilgallen and Desirae Gooding

Watch: Long Island schools push for voter registration

With only two days left to register to vote in the general election, Stony Brook University sophomore Rodman Serrano spends his time in between classes zigzagging around campus asking anyone who will listen to register.

“Sometimes I approach not on purpose, on mistake I have sometimes approached the same person maybe three or two times already,” Serrano said. “But I can’t help it.”

The deadline to register in New York is Oct. 14. One tactic civic engagement groups use to convince registrants and voters is a personal invitation.

“From the standpoint of student voting, the story hasn’t changed very much from the early days,” Donald P. Green, political science professor at Columbia University, said. “It’s still the case that many people who might be inclined to vote won’t vote until they receive personal invitation.”

The same goes for registration, Green said. Serrano offers that invitation. He’s managed to convince 350 or so students to register to vote since January. That could potentially translate into 75 to 150 voters in November, Green said, because one voter registered equals roughly one quarter to one half of a voter at the polls.

Some 5,000 other Long Islanders have also been registered since this summer through The Long Island Civic Engagement Table. LICET Organizer Alejandra Sorto estimated that almost half of those new registrants were students. The polarizing presidential candidates might have something to do with this surge of young voters, she said.

“It could be either positive or negative,” Sorto said. “It could be they like the candidate or the opposite, that they don’t like what the candidates stand for and want to change how democracy works in the United States.”

The LIU Post campus has also shown interest in the 2016 election, Adam Hornbuckle, Vice President of Student Government at Long Island University Post, said. While he understands that voter apathy among the younger demographic can be prevalent, he has noticed the polar opposite on campus this Fall.

“The [student body] has been buzzing about this election cycle …” Hornbuckle said in an email.

Students and inexperienced voters can be deterred by confusing registration laws, Mike Burns, director of the Campus Vote Project, said. Many students also change residence halls or apartments every year, which forces them to re-register multiple times throughout their time at school.

“When you look at surveys for why young people didn’t register, a lot of it for us kind of points to what I call the information gap,” Burns said. “They missed a deadline or didn’t know how to register.”

When students do register, they are very likely to actually vote, Burns said. He cited an 80 percent turnout rate for young registered voters in the 2012 and 2008 elections. But that’s only 45 percent of all people aged 18-29, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.

College educated young people were actually overrepresented in the 2012 election, according to CIRCLE. While 60 percent of citizens age 18-29 have attended college, 71 percent of young voters were college educated. And the current major party presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are looking to win those voters over.