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American Democracy Project works to register UWO students to vote

Ti Windisch

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Voter turnout among young adults is usually very low, but a group of UW Oshkosh students working with the American Democracy Project are trying to change that for the 2016 fall elections.

A group of six interns with the ADP worked on registering students to vote this semester. Melissa Belmontes was one of those interns and said at first she didn’t know if the group would reach their lofty goal of 100 registered voters per intern.

“When we were told we had registered over 700 students, it was such a great feeling,” Belmontes said. “I’m not going to lie, with over 14,000 students on campus, I still wish we had helped more people register prior to Election Day.”

Political science professor James Krueger said this was one of the best years the ADP has had in terms of getting voters registered.

“That has a lot to do with some great work from the staff, and it has a lot to do with the hard work from the interns we had who are involved in the process as well,” Krueger said. “I would say pleased more than surprised.”

Krueger said he was satisfied with the work the students did in a challenging internship with the ADP.

“My hope is that they see the benefit of their effort on Election Day, when they look at that voter registration line and see that it’s much smaller than it normally is,” Krueger said. “That should serve all of our students really quite well in terms of their ability to get in and vote and get on with their day.”

Belmontes said the purpose of getting students registered early was to help them avoid “painstakingly” long waits at the polls on Election Day.

“It was really awesome, and funny, that they were determined to register early and avoid an even longer wait on Nov. 8,” Belmontes said.

Meghan Owens, another ADP intern, said she had to wait for three hours to vote in the presidential primary and she hoped to help students avoid that wait by getting them registered early.

“As a student myself, I understand how no one has that kind of time to wait around when they have countless other things they need to be doing,” Owens said. “This is especially discouraging to voters who were unsure if they wanted to vote at all, or voters who are feeling frustrated about their choices and are already disheartened by the political process.”

Owens said a lack of knowledge is not a legitimate reason to skip voting, now that most students have access to the Internet on their smartphones.

“Take five minutes away from your daily social media routine and Google some candidates,” Owens said. “Not knowing enough is really not an excuse when the answers are at your fingertips.”

Adam Zastrow, another ADP intern, said it is important for students to vote because otherwise governments will continue to pay less attention to their needs if they don’t impact the democratic process.

“So many issues are ignored concerning the younger population because politicians know that they don’t have to worry about losing votes if they ignore them,” Zastrow said. “Since older people have a higher voter turnout, government figures mostly cater to and focus on their needs to secure their seats, and it’s sad.”

Zastrow said getting out of the classroom and seeing the amount of people getting involved with the election this year was encouraging to him.

“The best thing I got out of working with the ADP is probably the real-world experience instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture,” Zastrow said. “Also, going out on our campus and advocating voting and registering to vote early was really fun, and it was enlightening to see so many people getting involved and doing their civic duty.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
American Democracy Project works to register UWO students to vote