As the 2020 presidential election approaches, clubs and organizations across Southern Adventist University’s campus are creating opportunities for students to obtain the resources they need to participate.
Among those fueling voter advocacy are members of Southern Votes, a student-led, independent group not associated with any particular club, but focused on supporting other groups that are hosting events geared towards the election.
Xavier Snyder, junior history major and president of the Society of Political Sciences, said the main reason for the program is to provide students—many of whom are non-residents of Tennessee—with the information they need for voter registration and voting by absentee ballots through the mail.
“I noticed that while our generation is pretty vocal about what we believe now, a lot of us don’t know how to vote,” said Snyder, a member of Generation Z (Gen Z). “Every year, there are these big movements for people to register, but there’s not a lot of follow-up. [So], people can figure out how to do that. The main reason we’re doing this is to make sure our generation knows, now—with such a big election—how to get registered.”
Snyder is not the only person focusing on college students and voting. As the presidential election quickly approaches, many political experts and demographers are trying to predict the impact that voting-age members of Gen Z could have on the results.
“One-in-ten eligible voters in the 2020 electorate will be part of a new generation of Americans—Generation Z,” according to a May 14 article published by the Pew Research Center. “Born after 1996, most members of this generation are not yet old enough to vote, but as the oldest among them turn 23 this year, roughly 24 million will have the opportunity to cast a ballot in November. And their political clout will continue to grow steadily in the coming years, as more and more of them reach voting age.”
According to a 2017 Pew Research article, Millennials outvoted Baby Boomers and older generations in both the 2016 and 2018 elections. This may suggest the extent to which voting has been emphasized among younger generations in recent years, but it is not conclusive enough to predict the impact of young voters in the 2020 presidential election.
Gen Zers, who are coming of age at a time of unexpected economic turmoil, differ from their Millennial predecessors, according to the May 2020 Pew Research article. In a survey conducted by the center two months earlier, 50 percent of Gen Zers, 18 to 23 years of age, reported that they or someone in their household had experienced a job loss or pay cut due to the pandemic. Only 40 percent of Millennials reported similar implications. Gen Zers were “particularly vulnerable” even before the pandemic because of their overrepresentation in service sector industries, which were among the hardest hit after the coronavirus outbreak, according to a jobs analysis cited by Pew Research.
“Unlike the Millennials—who came of age during the Great Recession—this new generation was in line to inherit a strong economy with record-low unemployment,” according to the Pew article. “That has all changed now, as COVID-19 has reshaped the country’s social, political and economic landscape. Instead of looking ahead to a world of opportunities, Gen Z now peers into an uncertain future.”
At Southern, many students are looking forward to exercising their political muscle in November. In an Instagram poll conducted by the Accent, students answered a series of questions related to the upcoming election and their potential involvement. Of 227 participants, 177 (78 percent) said they plan to vote this year, and 50 (22 percent) said they did not.
In addition to helping various clubs prepare for the election, Southern Votes is working with Stephanie Guster, Southern’s senior advisor for diversity, in planning a campus-wide Constitution Week observance to encourage voter awareness and registration. The observance, from Sept. 17 to 23, will involve various academic departments and organizations.
However, Southern Votes activities won’t be limited to just one week, said Snyder. The initiative will be divided into two phases: The first phase will run through the beginning of October and will focus on registration. The second phase will run until Election Day and educate students on how, where and when to vote.
In the upcoming weeks until Election Day, the program will have booths set up on the Promenade, where students can engage with about 40 Southern Votes volunteers to receive resources about voting. Snyder said the organization will follow up with students who may have questions or a need for help.
“A lot of people are confident about who they’re going to vote for,” he said. “But they just don’t know how to vote.”
Junior marketing major Kirsten Clark said it would be helpful if Southern provided more resources that explain how to vote for students living away from home.
“Getting an absentee ballot is a little bit of a pain,” she said. “I’m registered to vote in Washington, but I’ll be at school over the elections. I had to do some research to understand what I had to do to be able to vote, and I’m currently taking an overload at school. I don’t really have time to be doing research.”
According to Snyder, the 40 volunteers that will be helping out with the Southern Votes program will be equipped not only with the knowledge of how to vote in each of their respective home states, but will be able to provide knowledge for all 50 states.
“Let’s say, for example, we have a guy come up to a booth and he’s from Arkansas, and he doesn’t know how to vote in Arkansas,” Snyder said. “So, what we’ll do is connect him with our Arkansas voting expert, and that person will work with him to make sure he knows what he needs in order to get his ballot and be registered to vote. We’ll also make sure he knows his deadlines, too.”
Additionally, Snyder said the program is completely nonpartisan. He said volunteers have been told that under no circumstance should they attempt to sway anyone to vote a certain way.
“We’re not a political campaign for one direction or the other,” Snyder said. “We all have our own political opinions. But at the end of the day, what we agree on is that it’s important that we get out to vote and make sure people know how to vote.”
Southern Votes posters and a social media account will be up and running within the near future, Snyder said. In the meantime, students can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freshman history major Amy Van Arsdell, a Gen Zer and Southern Votes volunteer, said the university should educate students about voting the same way that it provides community service opportunities. In the meantime, she’s doing her part to ensure that students get the necessary information.
“If you truly care about your community, you will want to help it by voting for good policies and leaders,” said Van Arsdell. “Your vote can make a difference, so please vote!”