BY SHANNON WILEY
As the Maryland caucus day on April 26 draws near, Salisbury University’s Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and Political Science Department have teamed up to make sure students are ready to cast their vote.
SU has consistently maintained a high number of registered students since even before 2012 presidential election, with about 75 percent registered according to a National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NLSVE) report, but only just over half of those people voted in 2012’s election at 40.6 percent.
This time around, the university is trying to raise that number. To do this, PACE and the political science department have put together several programs.
Their main program currently is a series of interactive links on each department’s website geared toward helping students be completely prepared for the primary.
On each’s website, students can find a link entitled “*HOW TO VOTE IN MARYLAND*” which brings them to a page explaining the qualifications to vote in this primary as well as links that can explain and help students register the way they want to. These links can be especially helpful to students this April since to vote in a primary, one must not only be registered in Maryland but also as either a Democrat or Republican instead of an independent.
Links on this page include “I’m not sure if I’m a registered voter in Maryland,” “I’m registered in Maryland, but not sure if it’s as a Democrat or Republican,” “I’m registered in Maryland and as a Democrat or Republican” and “I want to register to vote in Maryland or change my party affiliation or change my voting residence.”
Students can go through these links on their own, or had the opportunity to do so with the help of peers when PACE and the political science department set up tables and computers in front of Commons and Blackwell Library. Here, students had the opportunity to talk to trained students and go through the process on their way through campus.
PACE Director Adam Hoffman said that it is important to get students involved and prepared now, because deadlines for the primary are coming up.
“We have approximately half of SU students that reside in Salisbury or on the Eastern shore, so for them they’re usually going to vote in person, if they’re going to vote” he said. “We also want to communicate to students that there’s early voting, that you have a whole week to go to a polling place and vote, it doesn’t have to be on just that one day.
The deadline to register to vote or change part affiliation is today, Early voting begins at local polling stations on April 14 and runs until the 21.
“The other thing is, about half of our students are living elsewhere, let’s say western shore,” Hoffman said. “Those students, even with that extra week, probably aren’t going home just to vote. So how do you vote? Well you have to do it through an absentee ballot.”
Those wanting to cast an absentee ballot (so you can vote by mail without changing place of residence) must request one by April 22, and can request one through the interactive links online. Those casting them must have the ballots postmarked by April 26. The actual Primary Election Day is this Thursday the 26, as well.
Getting students ready for the Maryland caucus is not the only effort PACE and the political science department are putting in to get students voting, though.
PACE is also hosting two events, including one tonight, April 5, at 6 p.m., entitled “Raising Voices: Why and how you should vote” in Henson Hall room 243. The second event, entitled “Inquiring Minds Want to Know: A hot topic discussion by and for students,” will be held on April 13 at 5:30 p.m. in Devilbiss Hall room 123.
The Political Science Department and PACE are also looking to put together a forum with the College Democrats and College Republicans in late April for each group to explain their political points of view and the candidates that they support, and Hoffman said there will be many more activities aimed at this goal in the fall when the 2016 Presidential Election will be held.
“To a large extent, some of the things we’re doing now are kind of test cases for what will be a bigger effort in the fall,” he said. “This is sort of the dress rehearsal, we’re going to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the primary, and then sort of tweak those strategies when it comes to the fall election.”
The other goal of this spring’s work, according to Hoffman, is to get students interested in voting. In the 2012 election, SU’s voter turnout was not much under the national average for Public Masters Institutions, under which SU is listed, which was 48.9 percent according to a NLSVE report. However, Hoffman says that this time around he wants SU to be at least equal to this average if not over.
“Even the students that we do get involved this time around, I mean research shows that once you get students hooked on voting, they’re kind of hooked for life,” he said. “So if students end up getting registered and participating in the primary election, guess what? There’s a high probability they’re going to do that for the general election.”