By Margaret Osborne and Rosemary An
It’s a busy Monday at Suffolk County Community College. Students hurry to class, while others hang out in the Student Activity Lounge in the Captree Commons. Taped on the window looking into the lounge, a poster with a QR code and details about voter registration hangs largely unnoticed by the students.
Young people are the least likely to vote and have the lowest voter turnout of any age group, according to Judie Gorenstein, the voter service chair for the Suffolk County League of Women Voters. SUNY schools on Long Island are trying to change that by partnering with BallotReady, a company that aggregates political candidates’ information for voters to easily view.
Together, the SUNY Student Assembly and BallotReady created a new website which launched on Oct. 1. Students can view their polling location and candidates’ background, endorsements and stances on issues, with links to the original sources for them to verify the information. The website is intended to help guide them through the whole voting process.
SUNYVotes had approximately 1,000 views from the 64 SUNY schools in the first five days after its launch, according to CEO of BallotReady Alex Niemczewski.
The website is helping the SUNY Student Assembly with their three-pronged plan to increase voter turnout among students: voter registration, voter education and voter engagement.
Voter turnout for young people is particularly hard because they are less established in their community, less likely to own property and less likely to hear about local politics by word-of-mouth, Niemczewski said.
“I don’t think young people are lazy at all,” Niemczewski said, mentioning that this is a common misconception among older generations. “It takes a ton of work to be informed,” she said, adding that having a composite site for students helps them “build a narrative” for what’s happening in local politics.
Recently, students are becoming more engaged in politics, Suffolk County Community College Student Government President Kristen Quere said.
“In the past couple years, you’ve seen so many students posting more and more about political activism, but we want to get them to take that step off their phones and to the polls,” she said.
Gorenstein too has seen an increasing interest in voting among young people.
“Although it has been challenging to get youth engaged, over the past year we have seen a big difference,” Gorenstein said. “On college campuses students began thanking us for coming and eagerly registered. Student groups at colleges reached out to the League of Women Voters to partner with them on voter registration drives.”
It’s important for young people to vote because “it is our future and the future of our kids that will be affected,” Suffolk County Community College student Rachael Drake, said, adding that SUNYVotes will help increase voter turnout for young people.
But even with the launch of SUNYVotes, Quere predicts that voter turnout will still be low overall for young people. “I just hope that it’s not as low as it’s been in the past,” she said.
The lack of automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots and public transportation are all obstacles that young people face when voting in Suffolk County, according to Gorenstein.
New York State is one of 20 states that requires voters to offer an explanation for their absence. Along with 12 other states, New York also does not offer early voting, which could benefit students who attend college out-of-state.
“Although low youth turnout is not unique to our area, New York’s archaic voting laws do make it more difficult for our young to vote,” Gorenstein said.