By Mike Patterson, Director of Student Activities and Shala Mills, Assistant Vice President for Graduate and Extended Learning (and ADP Steering Committee Member), SUNY New Paltz
The State University of New York at New Paltz received some good news in the 2012 and 2016 NSLVE Report-State University of New York at New Paltz. The data from Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) showed an 8.2% increase in the voting rate among students at the university between 2012 and 2016. Voter registration rates for SUNY New Paltz students rose from 77.5% to 83.6% in that time frame, and 2/3 of those registered voters reported voting. The 2016 voting rate for SUNY New Paltz students was 56%, nearly 6% higher than the voting rate for all institutions.
This was welcome news on a campus where student involvement in civic life has long been a core value. In 1985 the university, in partnership with the Student Association, secured a polling site on campus. Despite some local challenges to student voting in 2000, the campus polling site has remained on campus, facilitating the ability of students to exercise the right to vote. But it takes more than a polling place to get students engaged in the electoral process. The college informs students of their voter registration options at orientation programs, sends campus wide announcements every semester, and hosts voter appreciation events.
The New Paltz Student Association funds a coordinator for the local chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Coordinator, Eric Wood, also coordinates voter registration efforts on campus, setting up tables in the student union, speaking to classes about the value of voter registration, and collecting voter registration cards and delivering them to the county board of elections. The League of Women Voters also leads voter registration efforts on campus, as do some other external organizations. Candidate forums and other programs offered by political parties and the board of elections help to increase student knowledge about local, state, and national issues and candidates. The student newspaper, The Oracle, runs articles and sometimes hosts forums. Over the years, some SUNY New Paltz students have, themselves, run for and even been elected to public office.
More than a decade after AASCU’s ADP released its best practices guide, “Electoral Voices: Engaging College Students in Elections,” campuses continue to work toward increased voter registration and voting rates among individuals in this unique and important segment of the population. Increases in voting rates are always cause for celebration.