Opposing voices working together

By: Brandon Blumenherst

An unlikely duo hosted a voter registration drive last week to give students the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

Fort Wayne College Democrats and the College Republicans of Fort Wayne teamed up to develop a bipartisan voter registration initiative which would register voters and have them opt-in to a notification service to send them voting reminders. This effort was focused on getting students registered to vote for the upcoming municipal election.

Sydney Bynum, vice president of Fort Wayne College Democrats, said that the purpose of the event was to educate voters and encourage political engagement on campus.

“We wanted to make sure that we give students the opportunity to vote,” Sydney said, “but we also wanted to encourage them to actually exercise that right.”

It was a two-hour event in student housing on Oct. 7, the last day to register to vote for the 2019 election. Around 25 students checked their voter registration status, changed addresses, or registered for the first time. Students had the opportunity to register to vote based on their address in student housing or their home address.

“I figured it would be easier to move my registration address here since I will be here on Election Day,” said one student from Lake County. The students running the event also answered questions about voting and registering to vote.

With a voting site on campus and an early voting site across the street, students at Purdue Fort Wayne have a few different paths to take forward.

However, some unexpected delays stalled the initiative. After initially developing the plan which included canvassing—walking around campus—to increase the amount of potential voter registrations, both groups received notice that activity was not allowed due to the solicitation policy on campus. The administration then suggested ideas on how to create the effect of canvassing rather than working with the initial strategy suggested by the two student organizations.

“We were disappointed by the initial response to our joint effort,” said Rachel Delaney, vice president of the College Republicans of Fort Wayne. “We want to increase political engagement on campus and this was our first effort to work together to do that.”

The administration said that canvassing violated the passive solicitation policy on campus. However, canvassing on political and religious grounds is protected by a Supreme Court decision Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton. The student organizations cited this decision and instances on campus with off-campus entities, like evangelical and anti-abortion groups, that would be in violation of the same solicitation policy. Despite citing this reasoning, the student organizations still met with the administration to determine their intentions and discuss the implications of this initiative.

After clarifying the intent and mission of both groups, the students realized they would have to compromise on how things could work in the short term and discuss long term change later.

A representative from the Student Life and Leadership office explained that these two student organizations could have tables at university events last week, the week before the voter registration deadline for the local municipal election, in place of a canvassing effort on campus. The administration and student organizations both want to discuss more about increasing student voter participation in the future.

Both groups volunteered at two campus events throughout the week and then worked to develop the voter registration drive in student housing at Purdue Fort Wayne. They want to develop a multi-stakeholder committee on campus that focuses on increasing student voter registration and turnout.

This committee would be modeled after the Purdue Votes Coalition, an initiative created in 2018 by Mitch Daniels, a former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president, to increase political participation amongst college students. However, that committee structure has not made its way to Purdue’s regional campuses.

The decision regarding canvassing on campus is still being debated and it is expected to garner further conversation after an upcoming faculty senate meeting.

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