Survey indicates only half of registered UB students will vote

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Almost 84 percent of UB students said they are registered to vote, but only 43 percent said they will vote in Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to a survey by The Spectrum. 

That’s slightly higher than the national average. As Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found, 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they will “definitely vote” in the midterm elections. 

While this number seems low, if 22 percent of this group votes, –– nearly half of the predicted turnout –– it will be the highest midterm turnout for young voters in at least 32 years, according to The Atlantic

But still, more than half of UB’s students won’t make it to voting booths on Nov. 6, according to The Spectrum’s survey. Many of the 255 students surveyed said they care about the elections, but don’t know about state-wide registration deadlines or where to receive an absentee ballot. Students also said they feel disassociated from candidates, who tend to target their campaigns toward older voters who are guaranteed to show up on election day. 

Jacob Homer, a senior biological sciences major, registered to vote and plans on voting Tuesday. He said young people need to show up and vote on Tuesday to let politicians know that our generation cares about politics. He said if the turnout is historically high this year, future candidates may make more of an effort to appeal to younger voters. 

“Yes, we’re statistically the least likely [group] to vote, whereas older people are very likely to vote,” Homer said. “[Candidates] cater to them as if there’s an effort to keep people our age from voting. The only way to fight that is to register, vote and show these politicians that we care and want to interact with them.” 

Antoine Yoshinaka, an associate political science professor, said he’d be impressed if 43 percent of students vote Tuesday. 

“For a presidential election that’d be low, but for a midterm election, it’s actually a little higher than what we’d expect,” Yoshinaka said. “One of reasons that [student voting] is low is because turnout tends to increase with each age range. Eighteen to 24-year-olds tend to be lowest group of all. But their participation increases throughout adulthood.”

Forty-four percent of the 255 students said they are first-time voters and only 32 percent said they voted in the 2016 presidential election. 

Yoshinaka said registering to vote in New York State requires students to jump through a lot of hoops, which can be difficult for first-time voters to juggle in addition to schoolwork. 

“This is the first election for a lot of students, many of which might not know what district they’re in or how to register,” Yoshinaka said. “The registration deadline sneaks up fast so if students don’t [plan ahead] they might miss out. There’s also no day-of registration, which is unfortunate. If folks are busy with school, getting off campus and voting on a Tuesday isn’t number one on their priority list.”

This was true for sophomore political science major Fisher Filippazzo, who said he won’t be voting on Tuesday because he didn’t fill out his forms in time to register. He said it’s hard to find time to think about the elections when dealing with the day-to-day stresses of school. 

“I just didn’t find the time to register, and before I knew it, it was too late,” Filippazzo said. “I think it’s really important for us to vote because our views impact the future. I definitely wish I could have registered in time.”

Many students also said they felt their vote didn’t matter. New York State has traditionally been a democratic state, causing many students to think the outcomes of elections are already determined. 

This upsets Faculty Senate chair Philip Glick, who has been vocal in trying to get students to register and vote. He said young votes matter, especially since there is legislation that directly affects UB that will likely be voted on if Democrats retake the senate. 

Among others, Glick said resolutions that would make all SUNY campuses tobacco-free, require all SUNY campus foundations to allow faculty and professional staff representation and enforce the NYS Clean Air Act will likely move out of committee and onto the senate floor for a vote. 

“Eighty-five percent of students, faculty and staff on campus want the right to breathe free air,” Glick said. “The likelihood of the Democrats retaking the floor is very high. Students are typically democratic, so go out and express your right to vote. If the senate flips again, if the kids get out and vote, it’s very likely that SUNY will make an effort to try and change [some of its policies].”

Glick said if people are registered, there’s no excuse not to vote. If students missed the cutoff this year, he hopes they’ll be more prepared for future midterms and especially the 2020 presidential election. Regardless, he views UB’s students as a voice of change that can largely influence the state’s politics. 

“We need to get them all of our students out to vote,” Glick said. “There’s no excuse if people don’t show up on Tuesday. There are over 21,000 undergraduates here. A rough guess is that 70 percent of them are domestic students. That’s a huge chunk of potential voters that could have a real impact on some of these elections.”

In The Spectrum’s survey, students said the economy, healthcare, the environment, gun control and race relations were among their top concerns. 

Rhett Boswell, a junior history major, said he is registered and looking forward to voting on Tuesday. He said all of these issues are important to young people because they directly affect our future. He said we have to deal with the consequences of these things, so voicing opinions now will only benefit us later in life. 

“We’re probably the largest voting populous in the U.S. right now because a lot of the baby boomers are dying off,” Boswell said. “We’re what’s next and if we don’t vote, we’re ruining our future.”

Yoshinaka said voting is a learning experience that can take time to get right. He urges all students who missed the registration deadline this year to educate themselves on the process so they’re ready to participate in the next election. 

“Voting tends to be one of these political things that once you learn the process, it becomes a habit,” Yoshinaka said. “Like any habit, if it’s your first time, you aren’t accustomed to it. Things like requesting absentee ballots or remembering to vote become easier as people get older because they become more ingrained. That’s why [voting] increases as people get older. It just takes time for young people to figure out –– there are a lot of hoops to jump through.”

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Max_Kalnitz