WWU’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) encourages fellow student athletes to use this opportunity to educate themselves and vote
The Western Washington University Department of Athletics joins the Greater Northwest Athletic Conference in cancelling all athletic activities on Election Day to stimulate civic engagement among student-athletes.
The announcement made Sept. 17 means the GNAC, which includes teams from five states, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s only Canadian collegiate athletic program, will spend Nov. 3 voting or educating themselves on upcoming elections.
Alaska, Idaho and Montana represent three GNAC states who benefit the most from this initiative as voting is traditionally done at polling sites. In contrast, Washington and Oregon have been longtime vote-by-mail states. During the pandemic, each state is allowing its citizens to request an absentee ballot with rules varying by state.
WWU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is aiding the GNAC in the education process.
“This is really important because it opens up that time and forces institutions like Western to allow their students to have the time to participate,” said Jessica Smithlin, WWU SAAC President and women’s rower. “I think more institutions should follow this and make it a holiday because it’ll allow younger kids to start asking questions like, ‘Hey, why are we getting school off?’ So this is a great step in the right direction.”
The initiative was passed by a unanimous decision from GNAC athletic directors and their CEO Board, which consists of all university presidents. The declaration follows a growing list of other NCAA conferences that are also encouraging their student athletes to get out and vote.
“Because we are dealing with a lot of first-time voters who are probably voting in their first federal election, we wanted to make sure that there was ample time for student athletes to get out and do their civic duty,” said Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner for Communications.
Coaches also understand the significance behind this announcement for their players.
“We wanted to show our support for the student athletes that this is an important thing for them to do and that there are no strings attached in terms of having athletic related activities that day. Just go and vote,” said Diane Flick-Williams, the WWU women’s volleyball coach. “This is our opportunity to have a say in the direction of our country, and we should take every advantage of it because that is our democratic right.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, 46.1% of eligible voters between the ages of 18-29 voted in the 2016 election. While this did show a 1.1% increase in voter turnout compared to the 2012 election, there is over 50% of this specific demographic that are not politically participating.
“We as young people have such an important role to play, and we have the opportunity to shift a lot of outcomes if we are just involved,” said Hannah Nienaber, WWU SAAC Vice President and javelin thrower for the WWU Track and Field team. “I mean, think about how many people turn 18 each year. It really makes a big impact, especially when those young people are educated on the process of voting, what’s happening on the political spectrum and what’s at stake.”
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