Voter registration drives in Lobby 10 this week
Voter registration drives will be held 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Thursday in Lobby 10, and Friday in the Student Center Lobby.
Residents of any state will be able to check their voter registration status, register to vote in any state, and send in absentee ballots, just in time for the state deadlines at the end of this week.
A donation from Course 9 professor Nancy Kanwisher and funds from the Student Activities Office Supplementary Fund have provided the event with a modest $2,000 budget which will be spent on stamps for mailing registrations and ballots, “I’m registered” stickers, and treats.
Student volunteers representing various groups on campus will help MIT staff and graduate students run the booth. The Forum, MIT Democrats, and various living groups are most represented.
Caroline Mak ’18, the drive’s student organizer, emailed every student group she could find with a vague political connection. Jonathan L. Hurowitz ’18, president of the MIT College Republicans Club, “personally would have helped, except that the date they picked was very bad for religious Jewish students”.
Mak wasn’t aware of the Jewish holidays, but explains “we had a really short time span.” Assistant Director of Admissions Chris Peterson SM ’13 contacted her Oct. 22 about getting involved in the ALL IN Challenge, a movement to increase voter registration on campuses. He picked her based on her summer work on votemate.us, a web app that launched in mid-September and aims to help make it easier for people to vote.
She had emailed students Sept. 10, encouraging them to use the app to check their registration, and sign up to vote if necessary. Almost nine-thousand people have used the site since.
With only a week of preparation, she’s coordinated with Christina Couch, an administrative assistant in the CMS department, and Communications Officer Kim Haberlin of the Chancellor’s office.
Federal voting rates of MIT students are below average, even for college students.
The National Study of Learning Voting and Engagement reports that in 2012, 38.2 percent of MIT students voted (67.0 percent were registered), compared to an average of 46.9 percent of students at educational institutions who opted into collecting data. Turnout is significantly lower for non-presidential elections: in 2014, those numbers dropped to 13.2 percent of MIT students voting (55.7 percent were registered) compared to an institutional average of 18.8 percent.
MIT still does not do as much to encourage student voters, as for example, Harvard and Tufts. This year, Harvard allows students to register to vote using TurboVote during mandatory online check-in. Tufts University offers voter registration drives, and their president personally emailed the entire student body, in addition to a similar partnership with TurboVote.
Still, interest in politics is growing. In 2010 The Tech reported that the two primary political student groups, the College Democrats and the College Republicans, both founded in the late 1990s were defunct.
That has since changed: the MIT College Republicans re-registered as a student association in 2012, and the MIT College Democrats re-registered just this past summer.
Both groups co-hosted Presidential Debate Watch Party Sept. 26 with the MIT Forum. Individuals from both groups have been involved with campaigning for candidates this primary.
Mak hopes that this won’t be the end of the civic engagement movement at MIT, and hopes that by partnering with TurboVote or some other software company, future students will have an easier time registering and voting.