photo: Connor Raine & Molly Williams/The Intrepid
By Nic Gelyon & Peter Byrne
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The 2020 election process will arguably be the most unique in American history. The country is in the throes of a pandemic, and voter advocacy messages have become a regular part of American lives, as has the election in general.
But Dr. Bart Lambert, political science professor at St. Bonaventure University, still sees the positives that arise in such an unusual year:
“This year, with all of the early voting and with the mail-in ballots, I don’t think students have any excuses,” Lambert said.
He’s speaking to and about students who aren’t voting this year. Though, as Lambert suggests, they’re likely abstaining because of poor planning, not disillusionment.
“It’s not that they decide not to vote, it’s that they fail to vote,” Lambert said. “They forget to make arrangements.”
The record books can be thrown out with this election cycle. And as Coronavirus restrictions have changed the way politicians engage voters, and vice versa, it’s also changed the way citizens view the voting process.
For example, Lambert doesn’t think having a sole “Election Tuesday” makes sense for anyone, let alone college students. Tuesday is a weekday. College students and working adults alike are busy in their daily lives.
“It’s not real conducive to student participation, because it’s a Tuesday, you’ve got classes… and with people standing in line now upwards of an hour or two, it gets to be a burden,” he said. “So if students don’t make arrangements, they might miss their opportunity to vote.”
But, as many understand now, election day is no longer the end-all be-all day to cast a ballot. Lambert thinks this year’s voting system makes more sense going forward.
“Why not give people two weeks to vote?,” he said. “It makes it much easier because you can plan it around your life better… some people have two jobs and a family to care for. If you can do it on the weekend, or any other day of the week, that should help.”
So, according to Lambert, voting in this year’s elections will take some planning, but the election process has been made more convenient than ever. Did, or will, students at St. Bonaventure take advantage?
The Intrepid’s Peter Byrne asked several out-of-state freshmen if they voted, and what method they used.
Byrne, who is from Bernardsville, New Jersey, has already filled out an absentee ballot. Ryan Surmay, who hails from Cranford, New Jersey, won’t be filling out an absentee ballot this year, but it’s because he planned ahead. His mother gave him a mail-in ballot when his parents visited campus in September.
Freshman Isabelle Gaffney, from Morristown, New Jersey, was also proactive. Gaffney went back to Morristown last month, filled out her, and dropped if off on her way back to SBU.
Freshman Maddie Gilbert, who hails from Ringwood, New Jersey, will do the same.
Byrne asked two other people if they were planning to vote. Both said no.
To recap:of the six people Byrne asked (including himself), four said they have already voted- either by mail-in ballot or absentee ballot.
But Dr. Pauline Hoffmann, internship coordinator at St. Bonaventure, thinks there may be a bit more disillusionment in voters than Lambert lets on. However, she feels students should use this as fuel to create change.
Hoffmann essentially reaffirms what Lambert said: there is no excuse not to vote.
“If you want things to happen in your democracy… there are people representing you,” she said. “You have to participate in democracy, it’s critical.”
Hoffmann, along with other students and a few faculty members, staffed a voter registration table outside the Swan Business Center in late September.
Students who came to the table for advice tended to ask not who they should vote for, but rather how to vote. The table was meant for this purpose.
Having other students so involved helped in answering these questions, according to Hoffmann.
“I had someone who said they didn’t register before, because they didn’t think it mattered,” she said. “It was better, I think, coming a student than me. Hearing it from someone your own age makes more sense. This is why this matters in this particular election.
Some students still believe, however, that their voice doesn’t matter. They think voting is for ‘grown-ups’, involving issues that aren’t relevant to them.
But Hoffmann encourages students to have more of an open mind.
“When guys are younger, you feel like you’re invincible, and the things that bother us old people don’t matter to you guys” she said. “And the reality is, eventually it will.”
Hoffmann’s message to student’s who simply don’t view voting as necessary?
“What’s the difference?,” she said. “Imagine if everybody said that.”