PLU students work to get out the vote, register students to boost civic engagement in local community
By Kari Plog '11
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, WASH. (May 11, 2016)- A project in a marketing class has turned into a passionate effort to register student voters during a major election year.
A group of business students at Pacific Lutheran University say they are concerned about lagging voter turnout that has historically kept local school bond measures from passing. They want to change that ahead of November’s general election, during which voters will decide on Franklin Pierce School District’s $157 million bond that would replace five elementary schools and include several other projects.
“As students it is our responsibility to help other students along with giving back to a learning community that has given so much to us,” said Brooke Johnson, a sophomore business major.
Johnson said many students at PLU were never in Franklin Pierce schools, but supporting the local district is a civic duty that helps work toward a sustainable future.
“We shouldn’t have to entice people about the future of our community because it should be that important,” Johnson said, adding that new classrooms will get kids excited to learn.
And PLU students don’t have to be from here to vote here. A voting residence is a person’s permanent address or a transitional address where he or she physically resides.
“Students away at school have the option of retaining their address at home or registering at their address at school,” Pierce County Elections Manager Mike Rooney said.
In other words, students don’t lose their residency just because they move away for school. They can choose where they want to have their voices heard so long as they are only registered in one place. That means students from Alaska, for example, can register to vote in Pierce County for the four years they attend PLU if they wish to exercise civic engagement where they are currently living.
Also, if there are issues back home that students from out of town want to weigh in on, those students may stay registered in their hometown and call or email their local election offices to have their ballot mailed to them.
No matter the approach, the key is having a voice regarding issues that matter, Johnson said. Voting, no matter where it happens, shows care for the community and models to the rest of the country that people want their voices heard, she said.
Ingeborg Jore, an international student from Norway studying business, can’t vote in the U.S. but is passionate about civic engagement and getting involved in other ways.
“Every single vote matters,” Jore said, adding that Americans have fought for the right to vote, something people in other countries are still fighting for. “Even though we don’t consider Parkland our home, most of us are living here for about four years and should involve ourselves in the community.”
For those wishing to participate in Washington state’s presidential primary May 24, the deadline for voter registration has already passed. But there is still time to register to vote in the Aug. 2 primary and the Nov. 8 general election later this year. That means there is still time to have your voice heard on important local measures, including Franklin Pierce’s school bond measure, and the national presidential race.
Students who wish to register to vote locally or within the state can do so through Pierce County Elections or through Washington’s Office of the Secretary of State. They can register online, with a driver’s license or identification card, or request a form by mail.
Pierce County voters may also register in person through the county’s Elections Center located at 2501 S. 35th St., Suite C, in Tacoma.
Students interested in registering to vote in their hometown or state should reach out to their respective elections offices.
Kaitlyn Sill, assistant professor of politics and government, said students are directly affected by local elections, even if they are only in Parkland for four years. Issues decided in local elections dictate immediate changes in policy, such as a plastic bag ban or changes to sales tax, to big-picture policy changes such as cost of tuition and student-loan debt. Practically speaking, Sill added, voting locally is easier than navigating an out-of-state election.
“The decisions that are being made have a fundamental impact on their everyday lives,” Sill said. She said students should also care about low voter turnout. Low turnout means a small percentage of the population are deciding issues that affect everyone. “It’s hard to say the outcomes represent the voice of the people when so few people are voting.”
Sill also said students shouldn’t overlook local elections. While many consider national presidential races to be most important, local elections provide individuals more power to impact outcomes. She said city council races, for example, rely heavily on individual contact and canvassing, something that isn’t as prominent in national presidential races.
“If you’re a volunteer on a presidential election, you’re one of thousands,” Sill said. “If you’re working on a bond initiative, you’re one of 20.”
The last time Franklin Pierce voters approved a bond was 1998. The PLU students working to generate voter interest stress that the district’s buildings are severely outdated; one dates back to 1927. And it isn’t enough for school bonds to gain majority support from voters. They need supermajority support of 60 percent for approval.
Dani Gapsch, a junior business major from Vancouver, Washington, said PLU often hosts field trips from nearby Franklin Pierce schools, and it is likely that many of them will come to the university down the road. She said that’s why students at PLU should cast their vote in support of local kids.
“The Franklin Pierce School District has such a presence on PLU’s campus,” she said. “The students of today are the possible PLU students of tomorrow.”
More generally, Gapsch said it’s important to participate in a system that directly affects individuals’ lives. “We are the future, so it is especially important that we are heard and speak up,” she said.
Jared Christy, another sophomore business major from Spokane, said the Parkland area takes PLU students in during their college years and it is the right thing to do to give back by registering and voting. “It takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes of your time and you will help give every kid in the Parkland area from here on out a better school experience,” he said.
At the conclusion of their project, Christy, Johnson and others in the group will gauge their project’s success and present their results to representatives from the Franklin Pierce School District. But the goal extends beyond a grade for the business students, as illustrated in a column they wrote for the cause: “Nothing motivates kids more than big kids who believe in them.”
Below: Watch a behind-the-scenes look at the Pierce County Elections Center on election night. (Video by Zach Powers ’10/PLU) Also, check out how a ballot is counted here, from the time it’s dropped in one of 30 drop boxes countywide to the time it’s counted by elections staff and volunteers.