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SU students navigate voter engagement before their first presidential election

"Vote here" sign on the sidewalk
Alex Petro
A voting sign outside of SU's Goldstein Student Center

In a year that will see many of them cast their first-ever presidential votes, Syracuse University students are finding ways to be politically engaged, from learning the basics of how to vote, to stumping for politicians.

John Parker chairs the S.U. chapter of College Republicans and actually thinks college-age students should only vote if they are well-informed on political issues. "We're very young, which means we're highly susceptible to social pressure," he said.

However, his group does actively work to inform students on the issues, with a hands-on approach. “A lot of our volunteer hours go into helping out local campaigns,” Parker said. "It demonstrates that the process is important.”

A process that also includes learning the ropes of what to do for Election Day.

Junior Tatiyyanah Nelums, a registered Democrat, says for her first election, in what year?, “I didn’t know anything.” From how or where to do it, to “how to send ballots home. I kind of just learned on my own,” said Nelums.

National data show that, in New York, more than 43,000 college students are from out of state, meaning the registered voters among them have to cast mail-in ballots, often never having being taught how. That’s one reason many students may decide against voting altogether, says Nelums.

Only about half of 18-to-24-year-old voters cast ballots in 2020, for the last presidential election, according to the U.S. Census.

Another reason for low student turnout, says Nelums, may be that they’re distracted by classwork. "I feel like voting...comes at a time where we’re all really busy,” said Nelums. “Usually around November is when midterms are happening.”

Like Parker, Nelums hopes to see more voter engagement from S.U. students in the fall, and more of an effort from the school itself to offer voter assistance on campus.

Alex Petro is an undergraduate studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Alex is from Canton Ohio, where she grew up as a competitive figure skater. Today, she is most heavily involved in musical theater, both in her community and through SU.