Residents of the West Side may have heard a knock at their doors Sunday afternoon. Approximately 25 student volunteers worked in pairs to visit more than 360 homes, asking the same question over and over: “Are you registered to vote?”
On Saturday, Binghamton University volunteers split up to canvass the West Side and Downtown Binghamton as part of the Voter Registration Drive. After the students covered their assigned areas, they headed to the Belmar Pub and Grill to chow down on free tacos and enjoy some live music from local band Adam Ate The Apple.
The event was co-sponsored by numerous local organizations, including Citizen Action and Generation Vote.
Ryan Martin, a community organizer for Citizen Action and a senior majoring in English, served as the drive’s primary organizer. He wrote in an email that with elections quickly approaching, it’s important for students’ voices to be heard.
“We want to try to get as many people registered as possible to foster a greater sense of community for students in the realm of Binghamton,” Martin wrote. “Binghamton is more than just a university; it is a community, a home and political involvement is key to making sure that home is for all the residents of Binghamton.”
Nationwide, voter turnout rates are low among millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, only 49 percent of all eligible adults born after 1980 voted in the 2016 general election. Low voter turnout is even more pronounced on the West Side, where many BU students reside. According to the Broome County Board of Elections website, during the 2013 general election, which included the most Binghamton’s last mayoral election, just 33.9 percent and 26.8 of people voted in districts 21 and 22, respectively, which cover the West Side.
Jacob Bezner, a campaign manager for Generation Vote and a sophomore double-majoring in political science and history, helped organize the drive. He said these numbers often reflect low voter registration and a lack of knowledge about local elections.
“The West Side and Downtown historically have had really low turnouts because students primarily register on campus and don’t realize that they have to re-register once they move off,” Bezner said. “Another important thing is that once they move out of the area where they are registered to vote, they don’t receive polling cards and election reminders, so they are kind of kept out of the loop.”
Although the drive’s primary goal was to get students registered to vote, Bezner also stated spreading information about local elections and reminding students to go out and vote is just as important. Martin echoed this idea and wrote that voting is an important civic duty.
“Voting is one of the most important forms of engaging within the community,” Martin wrote. “It may seem silly to many students, but the policies we enact and politicians we elect have a direct effect on the lives of so many people. When students come together they have the potential to accomplish so much, whether that be through volunteering, working in Binghamton or simply checking a ballot box.”
Amy Williamson, a sophomore double-majoring in philosophy, politics and law and history, volunteered at the drive. She said political engagement is extremely important for students.
“We are part of the West Side and should have our voices heard,” Williamson said. “We should also recognize the political issues going on around us, because it’s our town too.”
According to Malik Palmer, a volunteer organizer for Generation Vote and a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, going out and canvassing increases the likelihood that students will vote.
“I think people need that reminder,” Palmer said. “A lot of people were already registered because of the presidential election, but didn’t know about the mayoral election or local politics.”
According to Martin, Citizen Action will continue to mobilize students to vote leading up to the Nov. 7 election and is still looking for volunteers to help with other events similar to the drive.