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Your vote counts this election day

An Oregon resident drops off his ballot at an official ballot drop box. Photos by Saul Rodriguez

An Oregon resident drops off his ballot at an official ballot drop box. Photos by Saul Rodriguez

By Michael Eubanks

Voting is a crucial part of the democratic process. But voter turnout in the United States is exceptionally low. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 actually voted in the previous presidential election in 2012. Even fewer young people voted in the 2014 midterm elections, contributing in part to the lowest overall voter turnout in nearly 70 years.

To combat such low turnout, Chemeketa’s student government, along with help from the Oregon Student Association, has been working to convince students to vote. Adam Holden, the college’s civic engagement coordinator, has seen firsthand the lack of excitement and interest expressed by some students. “I think with college students it’s just not on their radar yet,” he said. “Their eyes haven’t been opened to a lot of the reasons why they should vote and how their vote matters.”

Holden said that the candidates in the race also seem to affect the enthusiasm of students. “I will say that in the springtime a lot of students were very excited about Bernie Sanders and many of them attended the rally here in Salem that he did. That rally was insanely full. So I’d say here in Oregon a lot of people were excited about Bernie Sanders, including a lot of our students. Now that he’s not in the running a lot of people are not excited about the election. If he was still in it I think a lot of our students would be totally into it and you’d see a lot more energy on campus around the election.”

Ballots can be dropped off at official drop sites like this as late as 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Photo by Saul Rodriguez

Anayeli Jimenez Arteaga, a field organizer for the Oregon Student Association, wants to change the current lack of enthusiasm around campus. The Association is a non-profit, non-partisan statewide group made up of individuals from universities and community colleges in the state. The association sends staff to work with students to run voter registration drives and give short presentations to classes on the reasons to register and to vote. They will also try to engage with students one-on-one when possible. They place phone calls to students who they helped register to remind them to vote, as well as inform them of the deadlines and ballot drop-off sites.

Statewide, the association’s voter registration program has helped registered approximately 49,000 students to register to vote in 2016. At Chemeketa, 878 students registered to vote through the program during the first three weeks of fall term.

The association also created nonpartisan voter guides, which explain all of the measures in this year’s fall elections along with the results of a yes or no vote. The voter guides also include profiles on top candidates for state offices. The candidates were all asked three questions that are relevant to college students, and their responses are listed in the guide. However, there is one election that is noticeably not covered in the guide: the presidential election.

“Although we know that this is a very contentious year, specifically federally, we wanna really have students focus on the state and local level, which, in my opinion, directly impacts us the most,” Jimenez Arteaga said. “There are a lot of elections that are going to be happening on our ballot this year that are directly going to affect us as students. For example, this is a gubernatorial election… the governor has a lot of power and say on how much funding goes into higher education. So these are the kinds of races that we want students to be excited about right now because they directly impact us.”

Jimenez Arteaga also pointed out that students should take advantage of the vote by mail system Oregon has to offer.

“A lot of people throughout history have fought for our right to vote, and we really have it lucky here in Oregon because Oregon’s system is very easy,” she said. “In other parts of the country people have to wait four to five hours to be able to vote and here it’s super easy. You can vote right from home, you can vote wherever you’re at – you just have to mail it in.”

Because of the efforts between them and many others, both Holden and Jimenez Artega were proud of the work that they’ve done to convince Chemeketa students to register and to vote. They hope to continue this successful program for years to come.

“We have a civic responsibility and a duty to really exercise our right to vote, to take advantage of the fact that we have that ability because other countries don’t,” Jimenez Arteaga said. “Other countries are dictated by a very small percentage of people that run that country and sometimes [people] don’t have the ability to vote. Really take advantage of the fact that you live in a country that allows you to exercise your right to vote.”