NU Votes registers students for 2012 election

Cat Zakrzewski, Assistant Campus Editor

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A Northwestern student group on Wednesday distributed nearly 500 voter registration and absentee ballot forms in an effort to encourage increased student turnout in the November general election.

NU Votes, a non-partisan initiative of the Center for Civic Engagement, hosted an All-Campus Voter Registration Day for students, faculty and staff.

People had the opportunity to register to vote at their campus or home address, update their registration information or request an absentee ballot at Norris University Center or Technological Institute. NU Votes continued registering voters at a Wednesday evening screening of the presidential debate.

“It’s great to provide a simple process for people to help them become more engaged citizens,” said Becca Portman, a fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement and a SESP senior.

NU Votes began last year with the Wildcat Welcome initiative, which allowed freshmen to register to vote in all 50 states when they signed up for their WildCARDs. Portman said prior to getting their WildCARDs, 40 percent of freshmen were registered. Following the initiative, 89 percent of Northwestern freshmen were registered to vote.

“We also wanted to provide that opportunity for upperclassmen,” Portman said.

NU Votes is part of a larger initiative called UVote. After the success of NU Votes during Wildcat Welcome, staffers from the Center for Civic Engagement taught seven other schools how to register voters on their campuses, Portman said.

Weinberg junior Danya Sherbini said she first learned about NU Votes through her involvement in Global Engagement Seminar and wanted to do her part to make voting easier for all Northwestern students.

“It’s cool to get to see how excited people are to vote,” Sherbini said.

Sherbini said one of the highlights of the day for her was registering a freshman who will turn 18 in October to vote and witnessing his eagerness.

Portman said Wednesday’s event was important because many students are uncertain about where they can register to vote. Another issue for students, she added, is that the voting system is very paper-based, and students often do not have stamps and forget to mail in forms by deadlines.

“NU Votes removes that part of the equation,” Portman said.

Another hurdle Portman said many NU students face when registering to vote is the existence of voter ID laws. Michigan, Tennessee and Louisiana require voters to appear in person the first time they vote, she explained. However, many students do not know this and register in those states thinking they can vote with an absentee ballot when they actually have to go home.

“There are laws that keep people from voting where they want to vote,” Portman said.

Weinberg sophomore Cameron Freeman said he came to the registration event because he was unsure if he was already registered to vote in his home state of Florida and wanted to learn about his voting options.

“Four years is a lot of time with how fast everything is happening,” Freeman said of the importance of voting in this election.

Portman said the exact number of distributed registration forms and absentee ballots would not be available until they were processed and mailed out Thursday.

“Northwestern students in particular can get caught up in the Northwestern bubble and forget to be a part of a broader culture,” Portman said. “Voting is one important way to contribute to that broader community.”