With control of Congress up for grabs and the New York state deadline for voter registration set for Friday, Columbia students and administrators have been making a concerted effort to register new voters for the November general election.
Members of the Columbia Political Union, a student-run nonpartisan group, have been attempting to register students by sponsoring a voter registration drive, sending out e-mails to their members, and maintaining a Web site with information on how to register and request absentee ballots.
Wei Wei Hsing, CC '08 and general manager of CPU, said that voter registration has been heavily emphasized by political organizations this year due to many competitive races and the potential for control of Congress to switch parties. "It's a crucial year because a lot of elections across the country are heavily contested," Hsing said.
While the drive was not targeted specifically toward first-years, Hsing said that many of those who registered during the two-day drive were new students "because they just turned 18 and ... missed out on registering."
For their part, many first-time voters expressed excitement about taking part in their first election.
"I'm excited to vote because I feel like I know what I'm talking about. It [voting] is worthwhile and important to society," Max Kaplan, CC '10, said. A Pennsylvania native, Kaplan said that he plans to vote for the Democratic ticket because "there is a Senate election and I feel like my vote will count."
Jessica Jeong, CC '10, said she was excited, rather than nervous, to vote. "There are so many dumb people who vote, so I want to try to combat that."
The Columbia administration, required by the Higher Education Act of 1998 to "make a good faith effort" to register student voters, has also worked to promote voter awareness, especially among first-years. University Provost Alan Brinkley sent out an e-mail last week encouraging students to "submit ... [their] registration forms or absentee ballots on time."
Barnard Dean Dorothy Denburg sent a similar message to the school's students yesterday, telling them to exercise their "most basic democratic right and vote."
Maxine Griffith, executive vice president of Government and Community Affairs, said that she was "very encouraged by the fact that students are involved." The Office of Government and Community Affairs wants to "make it as easy as possible" for people to register to vote, she said.
According to Griffith, "Voting is always tremendously important. Especially in these times, you can see what happens if you don't vote."
Registration cards will be available in 302 Low Library and in the lobby of John Jay all day Friday. The general election will occur on Tuesday, Nov. 7.