SF State Ahead of Class in Voter Registration
September 23, 2004 9:32 PM
SF State is a role model when it comes to mobilization efforts for voting registration, according to a new Harvard survey.
The school was singled out for effectively using innovative ways of making students aware of the importance of voting and encouraging their participation.
Based on responses from 249 U.S. colleges and universities, the survey concluded that only 16.9 percent of the schools polled met the standards set by the1998 Higher Education Act. More than one-third of the schools failed to meet even the spirit of the federal law that stipulates on-campus practices such as absentee ballot applications and voter registration drives.
SF State not only offers candidate nights, panel discussions and voter registration drives, but also a class to educate students on more in depth aspects of this year's election.
But the university's administration is only a facilitator in this process, said SF State political science professor Corey Cook. He said that a large part of the credit for these achievements should be given to the students, the faculty and the activist nature of the campus.
There are several student clubs and organizations at SF State that run ads in the campus newspaper, hold ballot receipt promotions and organize events to promote voter registration.
"President Corrigan deserves the credit for making this civic engagement one of the school priorities because not a lot of universities do this," Cook said. "But he is not the only one responsible for it. Even if the administration said 'we won't register anyone on campus anymore,' we'd still have a great voting turn-out," said Cook.
Nearly two out of three SFSU students who were eligible to vote did so in the 2002 elections, according to SF State's office of public affairs.
Some students said that the trend could be explained by the liberal views of San Francisco. Others said it's because of the constant critical thinking challenges that many professors emphasize in class.
“It's both,” said political science professor Nicole Watts. “The modeling that you see around this school and this activist environment is very inspirational to all of us.”
SF State graduate student Scott O'Brien said he chose to attend SF State because of its activist reputation.
"Here they get people to think critically and to be involved,” said O'Brien. “And that's one of the reasons I like it."
This semester, one of the projects Cook has assigned to his political science class includes choices such as volunteering in a political campaign and registering 10 voters. Most of the students chose to do the registering project.
"That's 2,500 voters," said Cook, as he estimated the number of students in his class.
However, Cook said his goal is not to get people to vote, but to have them execute their political power. He said people could do that even by not voting, as long as they have a reason for making such a decision.
"If they choose not to vote because they don't like any of the candidates or because they don't like the voting system, it's fine. They have made a decision," Cook said. "My problem is with the mindless, the one that doesn't care. My problem is with the one that says 'I'm a democrat because my mom is a democrat.'"
Those who vote based on what people tell them to do or based on a television commercial have a false sense of power, Cook said.
And students are working to educate those who think that way. "Only 25 percent of voters are between the ages 18 and 25. The rest of them are older people," said Viet-Thi Ta, an SF State physiology junior. "These people are setting the rules for us and young people think they won't be affected, but they will.
Ta is involved with two organizations on campus - the Beta Phi Sorority and the Asian Student Union - in which they have been planning events to promote voter registration and also to educate them on how to vote. They are also working to get speakers and panels on campus as the election day gets closer.
When it comes to politics and urban issues, "we're the best university in the world," said Cooks, who also is a former Hayward University professor and who chose SF State among the 34 other schools he has applied in the past.
"I can't imagine talking for 50 minutes here without being interrupted by a student, which is good. In most colleges in the U.S., you can do that and students will just listen and take notes," Cook said.
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