Chapman sees higher voter turnout than national average

Chapman has shown a 30 percent increase in voter turnout between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. Photo courtesy of Shishei Tsang

Students were roaming around campus, the line at Starbucks was excruciatingly long, an occasional dog or two stole the spotlight in the Attallah Piazza; it looked like any other regular Tuesday – save for one wagon that was rolled onto campus and donned in an assortment of red, white and blue ribbons and flags.

Sept. 24 was National Voter Registration Day and students Hanna Marcus and Willa Mitchel, along with Program Coordinator of Student Engagement Shishei Tsang, led the effort in doing just that.

“We were encouraging students to either register to vote or register for TurboVote,” Tsang said. “We tabled out there and we have our little ‘Vote’ wagon that we take out to different parts of campus to catch students as they go.”

With the intent to energize and excite the Chapman community, Shishei said her department’s goal is to educate and inform students about voting rather than give them more items to worry about. Justin Koppelman, the associate director of student engagement, told The Panther that they encourage signups for TurboVote, a tool meant to alleviate process confusion or voter roadblocks by updating the user on election deadlines and providing easy access to ballot forms.

In addition to Chapman offering shuttle service to nearby polling sites, this resource has been made free of charge for students for the past five years.

“We do our best to get students access to registration materials and access to information about the stuff that’s coming up on the ballot so that they not only vote, but are informed on what they’re voting on,” Koppelman said.

These efforts have already paid off, as Chapman has shown a 30 percent increase in voter turnout between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections. Rising to a total of 44.2 percent voters in 2018, Chapman finds itself at a 5 percent higher average than the national voting rate of over 1,000 universities analyzed in a report by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University. While this feat may be one to boast about, Koppelman said there’s still growth available for half of the university students who could vote and choose not to.

“It’s really important to exercise your civic duty to vote, because you get in the habit of doing it now and informing yourself on voting,” said Summer Khatib, the student government director of elections.

“It might seem mundane that you’re doing something relatively small on a national scale, but developing habits to inform yourself and get to know your candidates helps you do your part in bettering the environment that you’re in.”

Over all the institutions examined in the report, the nation saw an almost 20 percent increase in student voters nationwide, which Max Lopez, the president of Chapman Democrats, attributes to a cultural shift in the increasing amount of young political advocates.

“I remember my first year at Chapman, people were saying, ‘Oh, you’re class is more politically active than my class.’ And when I became a sophomore, we were telling that to the new class. Now this new first-year class is even more politically active,” said Lopez, a political science and peace studies double major. “So there’s becoming a greater cultural shift toward the need to not only mobilize through non-violent methods, such as protests, but also getting out to vote and making sure you really show your elected officials that you care.”

Student engagement wasn’t the only organization pushing for voter advocacy on Sept. 24, as student government also tabled for its first official day opening the fall 2019 senate election ballot. Khatib told The Panther that within 16 hours of opening the polls, they already saw a drastic 5 percent increase in underclassmen voter turnout compared to all of last year’s fall 2018 turnout.

“People are seeing that they actually have a chance to make a tangible difference. People realize that their vote matters for something,” Khatib said. “Being at a university and having the power to have representatives voice your opinions to get tangible things done is so important.”

Chapman has been twice identified by the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project as a voter friendly campus that diligently works to provide voter registration information to students in creative and engaging ways. As the political climate continues to sizzle, especially with President Donald Trump’s recent impeachment inquiry, Lopez had one comment to make on the future of the millennial and Z-generations.

“Don’t be afraid to get involved. Young leaders (like Greta Thunberg and David Hogg) have really shown young people that the power is in our hands too,” he said. “It’s that idea of seeing your peers be politically active that helps people realize and understand their own political strength.”

A member of Chapman Republicans declined to comment without anonymity. To maintain our ethical standard, The Panther does not allow anonymity unless for security concerns.