Kearney: Students, your voter registration clock is ticking
October 15, 2012
With Election Day in three short weeks, the country is abuzz with discussion and debate about the presidential candidates. Yet possibly because of Northwestern’s location in a liberal district of a non-swing state, the election feels strangely distant from life here on campus. Student political groups, of course, are plugged in and volunteering for their respective candidates. Yet beyond some local bumper stickers or yard signs, the campus feels virtually the same as it would feel during any other Fall Quarter. Perhaps many students dislike both candidates or the whole political process, or they have more important things to worry about in their own lives, or they are cynical and don’t believe their vote actually means anything. For whatever reason, there seems to be somewhat of a sense of voter complacency around campus, and I hope this complacency is shaken off before Election Day so that NU students' voices can be heard.
To be clear, I do not expect most NU students to be spending their days canvassing for candidates or stridently arguing politics with everyone in their lives. School, extracurriculars and social activities eat up virtually all of the average college kid’s energy, leaving little time for politics. Also, most people are simply uninterested in the political process and do not find it worthwhile to devote a chunk of their time to a candidate, especially when there is virtually no major campaigning being done in Illinois outside of congressional races, which do not exactly get most students’ blood pumping. There is a lack of a unifying issue or some kind of near-existential threat to the young population like the prospect of the draft during the Vietnam War or the presence of an inspiring candidate untouched by the harsh realities of having to serve as president for four years, like Barack Obama in 2008. Mitt Romney has not had to serve as president for the past four years, but I think that it is fair to say that he is not particularly “inspiring” to many young voters, who tend to lean left, or most other voting groups. There is also a trend among some younger Americans — having lived through years of war, corruption and economic struggles — to grow cynical about the political world and dismiss all within it as useless or untrustworthy while they float above it as self-described “independents.” The result of all these factors: A sort of complacency sets in, and students continue to focus on their day-to-day lives and whatever happens, happens in the political world, since many a college-age kid will tell you that his or he life will not be affected by any outcome of the election.
Although I understand the voter complacency, I am by no means seeking to excuse it. On the contrary, I believe that it is essential that students at NU and elsewhere shake it off fast and get involved in the amazing right that we have to choose our nation’s leaders. While many students I know are very tuned in to current events and hold strong opinions on issues — as one would expect at a top-tier school such as NU — I am frustrated when I overhear groups of kids at Norris University Center talking about how they wanted to vote in their first election but have no idea how to register or vote absentee or when the deadline to do any of that is. If this is a common issue at NU, a school with a relatively high level of engagement, then I am nervous for how detached colleges across America are from the election.
This is a big election with perhaps the clearest choice between candidates' visions for generations. From how we are going to pay down our national debt to whether entitlement programs will remain solvent for our generation to what kind of financial aid will be available to students, the issues that the candidates diverge on directly impact the lives of young voters. The future of President Barack Obama's landmark health care bill, which allows young Americans to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, among other reforms, is also up in the air Nov. 6. Questions abut war, peace and foreign policy objectives hold particular relevance as well, given the thousands of young Americans who have died in combat overseas in our lifetime. And on topics such as women’s and LGBT rights — issues that reflect what kind of society we will live in — the two presidential candidates offer the sharpest distinctions in recent memory. It would be a shame if NU students did not have a say in deciding these issues and so many others. So if it’s not too late, I would love for everyone reading this column to go register, obtain an absentee ballot and throw your two cents in about the future of the country, no matter which direction you want that future to take.
Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at email@example.com. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.