Oswego student started statewide Rock the Vote rolling

imageNew York state has more than 15,000 college students recently registered to vote, thanks in large part to an idea from SUNY Oswego student Jen Pufky.

What would become the SUNY Rock the Vote Challenge started as what Pufky called “a teeny tiny idea I had back in May” while brainstorming ways to convince more students throughout the state to register to vote.

As a result of friendly competition between campuses, 12,037 students were registered when the challenge ended on Oct. 8, the last day of Voter Empowerment Week activities. Within the next week, the total for the whole campaign had surged to around 15,000.

“We were originally hoping to hit 10,000,” said Pufky, a broadcasting major from Binghamton. “We ended up doing much better than we ever expected.”

The project was a partnership of Student Assembly, the New York Public Interest Research Group, mtvU and United University Professions.

Pufky said 29 campuses expressed interest in SUNY Rock the Vote, with 15 completing the process. New Paltz won by registering 1,772 new voters, or 27 percent of its full-time student body.

At Oswego, 1,123 students, or 15.2 percent, registered by the end of Voter Empowerment Week, with the total ballooning to 1,333 by the following week, said Kate Evanciew of the campus NYPIRG office. NYPIRG had run intensive voter registration drives at Oswego before, which may have kept the lakeside campus from posting bigger numbers, Pufky said.

NYPIRG partnered with other campus organizations for activities such as a table in the Hewitt Union, door-to-door “dorm storming” in the residence halls and clipboarding during class changes. Voter Empowerment Week activities included Rock the Quad, featuring a live WNYO broadcast, and the Rockin’ Out the Vote bash, with three bands and the Shaun Cassidy Fan Club Improv Comedy Troupe.

Such student organizations as the Black Student Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Rainbow Alliance, Phi Beta Sigma, WNYO and the Women’s Center helped with the drive. The college’s Office of Residence Life and Housing was “an enormous help, sponsoring an ad in the Oswegonian and printing table tents,” Evanciew said. The SUNY Oswego American Democracy Project steering committee and UUP helped with promotion.

While one goal is to have all 64 SUNY campuses participate in the future, there is also a chance Pufky’s “teeny tiny idea” could become a model for nationwide action.

“This has really been a test year,” Pufky explained. “Rock the Vote and MTV have been watching to see if it works. They may try it in other states and in non-presidential years.”

Pufky knows that what happens on Nov. 2—whether students vote in large numbers—is the next part of the challenge. But the project is meant to have long-term ramifications.

“Once students get involved, this could form a lasting habit,” Pufky noted. “When students realize that voting is their ticket and how they can enact change, that’s when it will get really exciting.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Register here—Jen Pufky (right), a senior broadcasting major at SUNY Oswego, watches as members of the college’s NYPIRG chapter work on registering voters during the college’s recent Rockin’ Out the Vote Bash in the Hewitt Union ballroom. Sophomore business administration major Bobby Hilts (second from left) registers as NYPIRG representatives, from left, Mary McMeneman, Andrea Rogers and Kate Evanciew look on. Pufky founded the SUNY Rock the Vote Challenge, which added some 15,000 students to voting rolls statewide this year. 

(Posted: Oct 15, 2004)