How can we turn out the vote? That’s one of the biggest challenges facing both political parties this election. It’s also a question some millenials want to tackle, because they’ve posted the lowest turnout rate of any demographic group over the last few elections.
Student leaders at Milwaukee’s Mount Mary University are trying to change that by “engaging” their friends – quite literally.
Junior Patti Gerber feels the pressure as she scans her campus cafeteria. Gerber is about to take a pretty big step: asking her friend Amanda for a serious commitment to go vote with her on Tuesday.
“[I’m] really nervous actually!” Gerber exclaims. “My stomach’s all jittery, got the butterflies right now, getting a little sweaty in my palms.”
Gerber stands at the back of the crowded lunchroom, holding a plastic ring. She spots her friend, takes a deep breath, and tries to play it cool.
Then, it’s go time.
As Gerber weaves through the lunch tables, she hums the melody of “Going To the Chapel.” Finally, she reaches her friend’s table and clears her throat…
“We’re going to the voter station! We’re gonna cast our ballot right now! Will you come and join me please?” she sings, as her friends look on, smiling.
“Will you go vote with me?” Gerber asks.
“Oh my gosh, of course I will!” responds sophomore, Amanda Fahrendorf, as their friends clap behind them.
Over the last few weeks, dozens of Mount Mary students have “popped the question” to their friends, professors – even the campus president – and made plans to vote together.
This type of proposal – or as they’ve dubbed it, “pollposal” -- is the student government’s initiative to encourage more undergrads to hit the polls this fall.
Faculty will offer free rides to get students to the campus polling location. Some groups will take cars of their own, if they’re registered elsewhere in the city.
Amanda Fahrendorf says she had already been planning to vote, but having a friend hold her accountable adds something extra to the experience.
“It puts a little fun spin on it,” she chuckles. “We also hope it brings people together more, because especially now, with the issues being so polarized, we know that we’re all in this together, so why don’t you come co-vote with me?”
Most of Mount Mary’s “pollposals” have been successful – even the wackiest. Some involved elaborate performances, even dimmed classroom lights and candles!
If anyone said no, it was usually because they had already voted or received another invitation.
Junior Patti Gerber says she understands it’s been a strange election for some. But, she says, millenials can play a big role as long as they vote.
“I think there’s a lot of apathy of my generation. But if we can convince people, ‘elections are always important and will always be important, you have to go do it,’ hopefully will become a habit and they look forward to it,” Gerber says.
“The government will listen to you if you vote,” she adds, “but if you don’t get engaged and participate, you’re kind of just stuck there!”