Fresh off of a College Park election where UMD for Clean Energy generated record turnout centered around making College Park a green leader, the Diamondback Staff Editorial recognizes us and our organizing prowess as a blueprint for future student involvement in local elections.
Staff editorial: Energizing voters
Student election turnout used to be joke fodder for this page. The paltry number of student voters, especially in city elections, has been a thorn in the side of groups such as the Student Government Association, which have historically tried — and failed — to get out the vote in College Park. And then yesterday, a clean energy group led an 80-person march to the polls.
UMD for Clean Energy, a student group that highly publicized its city council endorsements and then organized the march to City Hall, experienced a success that no other student group in recent memory has ever come close to in the city elections. In doing so, they also provided a clear blueprint for how other groups could do the same in both city and SGA elections.
The group gave students a distinctly different reason to vote, compared to what student groups have done in the past. Most get-out-the-vote efforts have been ideologically non-partisan. They encouraged people to vote based either on their identity as students, or with platitudes about civic duty — both excellent strategies for generating apathy.
But if you treat students like citizens with real concerns, the way UMD for Clean Energy did, you can see results. The group based its campaign around general environmental causes such as reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable development. It showed students how the city council elections could help make a difference in these areas and then channeled that passion in an organized manner.
There is no reason this strategy should be limited to UMD for Clean Energy. In a variety of ways, large and small, the city council and SGA elections have broad impact on issues student activist groups care about. Finding these areas and showing them to students who care could dramatically increase voter turnout. Eventually 80 votes from members of one student group ramps up to 300 votes cast by members of four groups, and then 1,000 votes cast by members of 20 groups.
Rather than throwing out 1,000 nets and hoping to catch a tiny percentage of votes, UMD for Clean Energy went hard after a smaller number of students with much more success.
This is a lesson for any group that wishes to involve students in elections: Students who are not involved will not magically become activists when they hear blanket statements about which candidate wants to increase the penalties for noise violations; students who are involved will listen if they are presented platforms that treat them like living, breathing members of the College Park community.
In the spring, student turnout will more than likely be poor for the SGA elections, perhaps hovering at about 4,000 total votes, as has been the case in the last few elections. But maybe if student groups follow the blueprint and stress issues that different student factions value, they will reap the same success in getting out the vote as UMD for Clean Energy.
Broad efforts to encourage the masses to vote simply don’t work if students don’t see why their ballot matters. But by targeting students who care about certain issues and informing them about where the candidates stand, turnout could increase dramatically. If groups continue to serve vague platitudes instead of concrete policy reasons, the student body will continue to stroll down the road of apathy.