A semester-long SUNY Oswego class project to encourage students to register and vote in November’s presidential election and local races reached a crescendo recently as the Vote Oswego drive recruited students across campus to pitch in for a “blitz week” of nonpartisan mobilization events.

Political science faculty member Allison Rank’s “Vote Oswego” class formed coalitions with a wide array of student organizations and individual volunteers to help hundreds of students register to vote or to fill out requests for absentee ballots to vote in hometown elections. The effort exceeded its goal of 1,000 registrations and applications for absentee ballots—amassing 1,013 total—during blitz week.

The class started the drive in August and plans to continue voter registration efforts through Oct. 14 and voter education through Election Day on Nov. 8.

The 20 class members put into practice—on and off campus—the grassroots campaign methods learned in a class that meets formally for three hours each Wednesday. Rank said the team has received generous design support for campaign materials from the advanced web design students of Rebecca Mushtare of the art faculty.

Another supporter is college President Deborah F. Stanley, who praised the volunteers for helping make student votes count by taking their effort outside the classroom.

“Results are important. But it’s also important to pursue awareness,” Stanley said. “It’s important for students who are learning about their civic responsibility to put it in action. Anytime you’re pursuing something intellectually and you can really foster it and move it forward, it makes such a difference. It is, I hope, a feeling of accomplishment, because it is really necessary that we understand ourselves as leaders, as people enmeshed in our community.”

‘Be heard’

Senior public relations major Alexa Carrascal of Albany said students need to step up to help choose the nation’s next president. “Personally, I believe our general age group is going to be the most affected by the next election, especially by the choice for president,” Carrascal said. “Jobs, homes, student loans—so many issues right now affect students. We can’t afford to sit by. We have to get our voices out there and be heard.”

Volunteer Selena Gancasz of Central Square, a senior psychology major, became involved through her public justice class on American courts and the judicial system. “It’s very important for us to vote. Especially as a woman, I’m very proud of the right to vote and I want to exercise my right,” Gancasz said.

Rank learned political campaign organization from the ground up, participating for three months in the 2004 presidential campaign in the fourth largest county in Ohio. After that, she worked with a nonprofit organization at Indiana University doing nonpartisan organizing on campaigns on issues that students say they are passionate about—textbook affordability, higher education affordability, climate change. Those experiences and her research interests in youth and politics inspired the idea for Vote Oswego.

“It’s such a great opportunity for students to try out skills they have learned in a political science classroom,” Rank said. “In a presidential election year, I don’t think students have to leave campus to get a lot of the political experience they want.”

Junior public relations major Haley Filippone, who interned with Vote Oswego this semester as “blitz week” coordinator, brought some experience with her to the task. She worked for the Erie County Board of Elections this summer and had worked with voter registration, absentee ballot and other forms already.

Campus teamwork

Another intern, senior marketing and political science major Kelsey Henderson, said Vote Oswego’s coalitions with a broad swath of student organizations produced an outpouring of volunteerism leading to late September’s registration activity outside Marano Campus Center and Penfield Library. Representatives from the Physics Club, the college’s golf team, the women’s studies program, the Latino Student Organization, women’s lacrosse, Greek organizations and many more pitched in. “We have the backing of all the dorms and dining halls on campus, too,” Henderson said.

In a contentious year for presidential politics, it has taken training and restraint to remain nonpartisan in the Vote Oswego drive, Filippone said. “When someone tries to engage us (in partisan discussion), we say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re nonpartisan, but you can vote for whomever you want,’” she said. “It happens a lot—a lot more than I ever expected.”

Each registered voter can make the choice on Tuesday, Nov. 8. New York’s registration deadline is Oct. 14, by postmark or in person, for the general election, according to the state Board of Elections. The deadline to postmark a request for an absentee ballot is Nov. 1, but a voter can apply in person through Nov. 7 at his or her board of elections or any state agency participating in the National Voter Registration Act.

For more information on the project, email VoteOswego@gmail.com.

PHOTO CAPTION: Voter drive—SUNY Oswego senior public relations major Alexa Carrascal (right) assists senior studio art major Jennifer Varvaro (left) with a form Sept. 27 during a Vote Oswego registration event on the quad near Penfield Library. Students in political science faculty member Allison Rank’s “Vote Oswego” course have registered hundreds of students on and off campus to vote and/or to request absentee ballots. Looking on is senior psychology major Selena Gancasz, who volunteered on behalf of her public justice class on American courts and the judicial system. Vote Oswego made coalitions with many student organizations across campus to assist with a “blitz week” series of registration events recently.