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EDITORIAL: Culture of civic engagement needed to sustain Rutgers’ positive voting trends

After the 2020 election’s high voting rates, efforts need to be taken to maintain and expand that level of commitment

Rutgers students voted in impressive numbers in 2020, but we still need to make voting more accessible. – Photo by Jeffery Gomez

A recent report about the voting tendencies of Rutgers students showed an increase of students participating in the 2020 election. While some might sum this up to people being motivated to vote for emotional reasons, a 20.2 percent increase in the overall percentage of students voting at Rutgers is nothing to dismiss.

In fact, the overall percentage of Rutgers students voting increased to 72.8 percent — 6.8 percent higher than the average university.

These numbers should make us all happy. There were serious issues affecting college students in the last election, from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to continued racial injustice. Despite this, college students made their voices heard about issues that mattered most to them.

When issues are put front and center, people care about these issues, and the vote numbers go up. The trick, then, is ensuring that people stay interested in policy issues and continue to vote.

These things are important to keep in mind as we head into a midterm election later this year. The report also laid out how students in STEM fields were less likely to vote. That disparity between students in STEM and other students at Rutgers, in general, deserves to be thought about.

On the surface level, STEM-heavy campuses, such as Busch campus, must be sure to get the same level of engagement and commitment from projects that engage students.

The Center for Youth Political Participation (CYPP), specifically their program RU Voting, did a good job at generating interest and educating students about the importance of voting. These types of projects, now with the knowledge that STEM students are less likely to vote, should strategize about how to specifically target STEM students.

These projects can coordinate with the departments and create special events that are open to students and pique their interests. These events should focus on knowledge and the importance of voting, but they should also make it clear how easy voting is.

These matters were coupled with a process that made voting incredibly easy — due to the pandemic, more mail-in ballots were used, and drop boxes became easily accessible. These things made voting easier and helped with turnout, and they should remain.

The combination of educating and demonstrating the ease of voting could even further improve voting numbers. The focus on campus must be on educating people about the vitality of civic engagement.

While big events — such as when Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) held a rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — create excitement among the politically engaged, it does little in reaching students who are not as already politically involved. 

These events are exciting, but in order to reach those who do not follow politics, more needs to be done. In fields that do not relate directly to politics, we must focus on creating a culture of civic engagement — a culture based on knowledge of the political system and the importance (and power) of every single voter.

So much of voting and getting young people to vote is about knowledge. Educating students must be a priority. Starting from a young age can mold a population into one that cares deeply about political participation.

To that end, the CYPP, in addition to RU Voting, runs RU Ready which is a program dedicated to high school students that helps them discover the importance of voting. The program instills in students that voting is not simply based on candidates, but rather on how policy impacts everyday life.

Rutgers students clearly care about politics. Yet, we can do more to make voting as easy and as accessible as possible for all populations. As the midterm elections approach, our voice will matter, and we need to continue using it to tell politicians about the issues that concern us.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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