There are many ways to prepare to vote at Western this year.
By Ryan Morris
With election day just around the corner, the Office of Civic Engagement is planning ahead to ensure every student’s vote is counted.
The Office of Civic Engagement is described by Nathalie Wagler, voter engagement and recruitment coordinator, as “a hub for civic involvement funded by student dollars.” This office does everything from voter registration drives to organizing lobby days — all to serve Western students.
As Election Day approaches on Nov. 3, the Office of Civic Engagement is focused on voters’ needs. The organization first narrows in on registering voters.
One major effort to register voters is over move-in weekend. Wagler said each fall quarter, 2,500 to 2,800 students are registered to vote over a two-day period.
With Wagler’s particular passion for voting, it is no surprise that COVID-19 didn’t stop the Office of Civic Engagement.
“Voting is the most important thing to me,” Wagler said. “Every student moving in got a voter registration form, instructions on how to fill it out and a card on what the OCE is and how we can support students.”
The process does not stop there. Each dorm community has a drop box for voter registration forms, Wagler said. Every day a member of the Office of Civic Engagement picks up the registration forms and turns them in to the Whatcom County election auditor.
Another resource Wagler mentioned is phone banking. The Office of Civic Engagement called inactive student voters on Oct. 9 to ensure their mailing addresses are correct. Due to COVID-19, they are also creating informative Instagram and Facebook content such as stories and links.
Associated Students Senate Pro Tempore Sargun Handa said education is a barrier to many minority voters.
“The OCE and ASVP for governmental affairs try to have a large, diverse array of voices,” Handa said.
Handa also mentioned the Legislative Affairs Council, where some of the AS members and the Office of Civic Engagement work together with a wide array of students. Handa and Wagler encouraged students to join committees and run for council if they want to be involved in civic engagement long-term. Applications are open as of Oct. 9, and can be found on the AS website.
Handa said she was concerned about voting accessibility and education. The Office of Civic Engagement has taken some actions to address this.
Wagler said this Election Day there will be a Student Engagement Hub outside the Viking Union. Students can print ballots, register to vote, update their registration and turn in their ballots on Election Day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m..
“It’s the only place, outside of the auditor’s office, where people can register to vote in Whatcom County [on Election Day],” Wagler said.
A second on-campus ballot drop box was approved this year, Wagler said. There are now two on Western’s campus — one outside of the Wade King Student Recreation Center and the new one at Bond Hall.
“[Civic] education is the most important part of [voting],” Western student Adrianna Sawyers said. “AS will continue momentum in education and assisting students. Emails are good, flyers are good, but also being mindful of marginalized communities; figuring out what spaces need more advertising.”
Kate Destler, professor of political science at Western, said being educated on the ballot will make the most of voting.
“Take time in advance to research the issues, to get a sense for who is running, and so that you feel equipped when you sit down to vote to make a decision,” Destler said.
Despite being a political science professor, Destler said even she has to do research and have conversations before voting, and encourages others to do the same.
“Don’t be shy about talking to other folks, people that you trust, about who they’re supporting and why,” Destler said. “The more you can understand what the issue is, the more confident you can be in knowing who to vote for.”
Western student Rebecca Fagan suggested Western email students about voting resources and encourage professors to bring up voting in class. Handa echoed this idea of reaching out to students.
“Instead of expecting them to come to our websites, our Instagrams, our meetings, we can bring it to them,” Handa said.
Without education on the process of voting, students may not know the significance of it.
“Now more than ever, voting is very important to me,” Sawyers said. “In the past, I didn’t know the importance of it because I didn’t learn about the impact of voting.”
Destler brings civic engagement to her students. She provides extra credit for students who attend local city council meetings. Destler discusses registering to vote in her courses. Some of Destler’s colleagues give extra credit for researching the steps of registering, Destler said.
“Voting is important to me as a way to have a stake in your community, a way to have a stake in your society,” Destler said.
The Office of Civic Engagement educates students through their Instagram and Facebook. The organization has a local liaison, Natale Szabo, who posts to social media and is open to discussing local politics with students, Wagler said. Szabo and Wagler can both be reached via the Office of Civic Engagement Instagram and website.