National Voter Registration Day was Sept. 19, but the Husker Vote Coalition marked the day with a whole week of voter registration and voter education events.
The Husker Vote Coalition, a student led committee run out of the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement Office, aims to encourage voter registration among students and provide voter education on voting procedures and upcoming elections. Some members also serve as election observers and become deputy registrars, which allows the students to help other students register.
The coalition, which is comprised of an executive committee and vote ambassadors, began the new academic year with registration drives during student move-in. The coalition averages five to seven drives a month. Since August 1, the group has helped 1,895 students join the voter rolls in Nebraska and beyond. They added 37 the week of Sept. 18-22.
For Maggie Nielsen, director of voter registration for HVC, it’s a thrill to speak with students each time she volunteers at a registration drive. The senior from Hastings, Nebraska, said it combines her love of meeting new people with her passion for civic engagement.
“I always like to point out that there is a Constitutional Amendment — the 26th Amendment — that gave us the right to vote at 18,” Nielsen said. “I remember being in elementary, middle and high school and really caring about certain things and I couldn’t wait to have a voice.
“With the coalition, we really strive to let everyone know that they can have a say. We want everyone to vote.”
Luke McDermott, a sophomore from Omaha, said he initially joined the coalition because he thought it would help him prepare for a future career in legislative policy and government law. But now, as chairperson of the HVC, he wants to make sure students know they can be engaged in the political process.
“I feel it’s important to be civically engaged,” he said. “Students have ample resources for growth at this point in their lives and they’re forming their future, really, so it’s important for them to have a voice.
“I’m often really encouraged by the conversations I have. There are a lot of students who are engaged and really knowledgeable. There are also populations that don’t want to engage, or don’t see a benefit of being engaged. I still want to have those conversations. Maybe they’ll think more about it and see the benefit.”
Nielsen said she also often points out that even though it feels like federal elections get the most attention, local elections are important.
“Our Board of Regents is an elected body,” Nielsen said. “So bare minimum, that’s going to have an effect on students. Why should college students vote? Because the Board of Regents is on the ballot.”
The coalition also spends time on educating voters during the drives and through special events, such as election previews that inform on who is going to be on the ballot and the positions’ responsibilities, and speakers who explain the early voting process or how to volunteer as a poll worker. This semester, vote ambassadors have been spending time educating on a new change to voting in Nebraska — the Voter ID law that recently went into effect.
“These last few weeks, we’ve handed out a lot of pamphlets about the new law, and answered a lot of questions,” Nielsen said. “We’re reminding people that their NCard is legally recognized as a Nebraska ID.”