“Our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out,” said President Barack Obama at the State of the Union Address, Jan. 12, 2016.
Through Oct. 18, 2016, Portland State is conducting a nonpartisan voter registration drive. The drive is in partnership with the Oregon Student Association and in collaboration with many Oregon community colleges and universities.
In 2012, OSA registered over 50,000 students, breaking a statewide record. In 2014 a new record was set with 55,000 student registrations.
The U.S. general election is Nov. 8, 2016, and along with voting for a presidential candidate, Oregon’s general election ballots will include political races for governor, one senator, five representatives, attorney general and many city mayors including Portland, Lake Oswego and Hillsboro.
A person must be registered in advance with the state of Oregon so that election offices can get registrations processed and pamphlets and ballots mailed. Oregon law allows voting by mail, and voter pamphlets and ballots are sent to the address voters have registered with their local election office. The last day to register to vote in the general election is Oct. 18, 2016.
Registration can be done online, at election offices or by mail. Persons with an Oregon driver’s license may even be registered to vote already.
“Oregon Motor Voter, the new law that allows automatic registration for people who use [the] DMV, has come a long way,” explained Tim Scott, director of elections for Multnomah County. “But students are a different group. Often their permanent address is out of state, or they don’t switch their driver’s license right away when they come to school in Oregon.”
“If you’re registering through a registration drive on campus or something like that, make sure you put your housing unit number on it because that’s one thing that is a very common problem,” Scott continued. “It’s really important to have complete registration cards turned in to us so we can take that and turn it into a ballot to voters.”
“The goal is to ensure that students have greater funding for higher education and lower tuition; that the legislation has students’ interests in mind,” said Phoenix Singer, legislative affairs director with Associated Students of PSU and treasurer for the OSA.
“The individual vote does count,” said Edwin Arthur Taylor III, adjunct professor of political science at PSU and associate professor of political science at Missouri Western State University. “When people say they’re not going to vote because their vote doesn’t count, they forget there’s all that down ticket that’s really important.” Down ticket refers to additional levels of office beyond the presidency, such as senators, representatives and city mayors.
“Most of the governing in this country, especially because Congress is so dysfunctional now, happens at the state and local level,” Taylor continued. “If people aren’t voting for state legislatures, if they’re not voting for city commissioner races, not voting for judges and things like that, they’re missing a real opportunity to have powerful democratic influence.”
Scott said it’s easier to connect one-on-one with local politician than with their national-level counterparts.
“If you put a minimal amount of effort into it, you can speak with state legislatures,” Scott continued. “Voting is important, period, across the board. Everyone should participate at all levels of government. If you don’t vote you don’t have a say in everything from local politics all the way to the president of the United States.”
“We at ASPSU say that we actually have a pretty huge impact on our state and local elections,” Singer said. “After registering 50,000 students to vote, and getting many of those students to vote in a campaign where we called folks, we saw a tuition freeze across the state of Oregon. We were able to tell legislators that ‘you only won by this many votes, and we registered this many people in your district. You have to listen to us.’ We saw a similar thing in 2014, where community colleges and higher education funds massively increased because of student participation in the elections.”
Taylor said a lack of trust in institutions is one the biggest problems in American Politics.
“A democracy is supposed to be about citizens governing themselves and creating institutions,” Taylor said. “If we feel like we can’t trust our institutions, then we are basically saying we can’t trust ourselves because the people in those institutions are products of our choices.”
“Not voting and believing voting doesn’t matter are dangerous ways to think,” Taylor continued. “There are people who really do believe it matters, and they’re not really looking out for your interests. People complain that oligarchs, the elites, are running the country. Take the power away from them by voting.”