Student political groups focus on voter registration, canvassing for gubernatorial election

Leaders say the 2016 election is affecting their approach to state campaign efforts

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Student political groups have worked to register more people to vote for the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

University political organizations such as the College Republicans and University Democrats are increasing campaign efforts and voter registration for the Nov. 7 Virginia gubernatorial election. Student Council’s Legislative Affairs committee is also contributing to nonpartisan election efforts. The groups are primarily focusing on voter registration with the statewide deadline on Oct. 16.

Virginia is one of two states hosting a 2017 gubernatorial election, alongside New Jersey. On Election Day, voters will have the opportunity to vote for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The gubernatorial ticket consists of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie and Libertarian candidate Clifford Hyra.

Bradley Katcher, a second-year College and Batten student, is the College Republicans vice chairman of campaigns. 

“This is a very pivotal election,” Katcher said. “Obviously things have been going on in the national political climate — people are happy, some people are unhappy, and this is really a referendum about how we want Virginia to progress.”

The College Republicans are primarily focusing on getting students registered to vote, Katcher said. The group is also canvassing and increasing outreach efforts as Election Day approaches.

“The most important thing that we’ve been doing right now is to try and get as many people as possible registered to vote,” Katcher said. “Concurrently we’re doing some canvassing — that means talking to people about the candidates, talking to people about elections, finding out where they see themselves in terms of voting and essentially how we can talk to them about certain issues that are important to them, that are important to the election.”

Going forward, College Republicans plans on hosting debate watch parties, undecided voter forums and other events where people can see the candidates and focus on their policy positions. 

“Obviously we have a objective to get Ed Gillespie elected, but the most important thing is that people know who they’re voting for and why they’re voting for them,” Katcher said.

Elizabeth Parker, a fourth-year College student and University Democrats campaign chair, says next month’s gubernatorial election will have a direct impact on students at the University.

“This upcoming election is perhaps the most important election for U.Va. students and for students at universities around the Commonwealth,” Parker said.

“The most important thing about this is the governor of Virginia appoints the Board of Visitors for public colleges and universities around the Commonwealth, so U.Va.’s Board of Visitors will be appointed by our next governor,” Parker added.

Parker said the University Democrats have been focusing their efforts on getting students registered to vote. The group is also canvassing and making films about the candidates they support. As with the College Republicans, the University Democrats will continue to increase outreach efforts as Election Day approaches.

“Much more of this election, I would say, is spreading awareness about the candidates,” Parker said. “This year, we’re kind of having to brief people more exactly on who the candidates are and why you should vote for them.”

Parker also shared that University Democrats hopes to continue working with Student Council to create graphics and provide rides to the polls for students on Election Day. 

The Student Council Legislative Affairs Committee is also taking a nonpartisan lead on contributing to election efforts. Victoria Kasonde, a fourth-year College student and Legislative Affairs co-chair, said Student Council registered over 100 at the fall Activities Fair and are working closely with the Minority Rights Coalition and Rainbow PUSH Coalition to register more minority voters.

Student Council began efforts for the November election last spring when the Legislative Affairs Committee conducted a University-wide survey on issues students cared most about. The committee was able to lobby for student interests in Richmond and are considering hosting a political engagement week or fair.

“We would like students to have the opportunity to learn about civic engagement, its importance and about platforms of candidates they relate to closest,” Kasonde said.

To prepare students and the University for Election Day, Student Council has been sharing information about polling locations, transportation and necessary materials voters must bring in order to cast their ballots. Kasonde said students will receive information from a University-wide email, reminders on Student Council social network platforms and signs put up on Grounds. 

The committee said it may also share election information on Beta Bridge or the Amphitheater as the Oct. 16 voter registration deadline approaches and plan on hosting a bipartisan debate viewing party prior to the Nov. 7 election.

“We understand the importance of bipartisanship and collaboration,” Kasonde said. “Without a diversity of thought, character and values, we would not be the organization we are today.”

Parker said the 2016 presidential election has impacted campaign efforts from the University Democrats for the upcoming gubernatorial race.

“I would say last fall’s election really helped us,” Parker said. “We have much more of a background in campaign work now than we did before and we’re able to … use the foundation we laid last fall to elect Democratic candidates this fall.” 

However, Parker added that last fall’s election has affected the focus of their campaign efforts this year.

“There are a number of districts in Virginia that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by a large margin but still have a Republican member of the House of Delegates representing them,” Parker said. “We’re really focusing our efforts on those districts which are theoretically blue districts as long as we have sufficient turnout.” 

Overall, Katcher thinks campaign efforts have been well received and successful.

“I would say with regards to canvassing and you know voter registration, those efforts have been going extremely well,” Katcher said. “We’re really excited about them. We have a really good group on Grounds I can speak to.”

Katcher noted that the 2016 presidential election has affected voter awareness and engagement this election cycle. He acknowledged a lot of voters’ disappointment with the Trump administration and how national politics have been a focus of the state-wide election.

“I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a referendum on the election but I think that people are definitely a lot more interested, engaged because of what’s going on in national politics,” Katcher said.

Katcher said he recognized the most important part of the process as showing up to vote.

“The most important part of political activism is actually going out to vote because that’s how you speak, that’s how you make a difference,” Katcher said. “If you don’t like what’s going on, the way you make that change is by electing someone who’s going to pursue different policy, pursue different agendas.”

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