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Opinion: The Dangers of Assuming Students’ Voting Habits

On Oct. 27, Dr. David McLennan of the Political Science department and Director of the Meredith Poll sent an email to all undergraduate students sharing his thoughts on voting. In his email he shared his disappointment in turnout for the March to the Polls event on Oct. 21, which, according to his email, only had one attendee. Seeing that Dr. McLennan commented on Meredith students, we feel it is only right that we defend ourselves.

Dr. McLennan shared his disappointment that students were going to “leave it to old people like [him] to make decisions that will affect the rest of [their] life,” implying that Meredith students do not care about voting. However, this tone implies that he’s the one that believes this about Meredith students. The Meredith Votes students are proof enough that students care about voting. They’ve worked to host voter registration drives on campus and create infographics to inform students about deadlines.

Dr. McLennan stated that he thinks Meredith students “care more about expressing [their] views on campus than off campus” and that “when it comes to voting, almost everything else takes precedence.” Meredith students have previously expressed an interest in voting. During the 2020-2021 school year, students created a petition to suspend campus activities on Election Day. They wanted Meredith to “give students, staff and faculty the opportunity to exercise their right to vote without the worry of missing school or work.” Now that students have Election Day off this year, it’s possible that they are using this time to go and vote.

The aforementioned petition also pointed out that race and socioeconomic status can impact a person’s ability to vote—something that Dr. McLennan seems to have forgotten. He stated that “every class period, students discuss racial justice and how our country is racist.” He’s right that these things are on the ballot this year. But they’re also a significant reason why people can’t access the ballot in the first place. The “racial [in]justice” of voter suppression—including a lack of access to voting dates and voter ID laws—can make it difficult for them to vote in the first place, let alone attend a March to the Polls event.

The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) reported that 82.9% of Meredith students voted in the 2020 election. Meredith’s voter registration rate was 91.1%. The 2020 election was a presidential election, when voter turnout is often highest. Midterm elections, which is what the 2022 election is, usually have a significantly lower turnout. However, for the last three elections (2016, 2018 and 2020), Meredith’s voting rate has been at or higher than the state average.

With a high voter turnout rate amongst Meredith students in the 2020 election, it is unfathomable to us that an email of this nature was allowed to be sent without considering additional factors that contribute to the low attendance at the Meredith Votes class’, March to the Polls event.

The email stated that there are multiple ways one can vote, including an absentee ballot, early voting or on Election Day. All three of these contradict the message of the email. Early voting ends on Nov. 5, absentee ballots can be requested until Nov. 1 and students have Election Day off of classes this year. There are multiple ways to vote, but just a single method on a singular day is being fixated on.

It doesn’t account for the number of factors that contribute to voting habits. For example, out-of-state students may be voting by absentee ballot. Some students may not have a polling place in the Raleigh area and choose to travel home to vote.

In his email, Dr. McLennan shares that several important issues will be on the ballot this election including “affirmative health care for the transgendered youth and ban transgendered students from playing sports.” On top of the ever-weighing threat of the loss to abortions for women in North Carolina and the surrounding south where abortion bans are already in place. Since Meredith's student population as a Historically Women's College is primarily comprised of women, nonbinary, and trans individuals who all have felt the weight of these issues heavily, it was insensitive to assume the voting habits of students.

It wasn’t until the end of the email that Dr. McLennan shared that his examples were in reference to the low March to the Polls turnout. His call to action included plugging his next Meredith Votes event on Friday, Oct. 28 from 10-11 a.m. where he shared, “ If you sign our pledge, you get an awesome Meredith Votes button and some great food.” While incentives are nice, the heavy implications that Meredith students do not care about their broader community or complete their civic duties are not.

The most glaring issue with this email is that it assumes so much about students while asking so little about them—and this isn’t the first time this has happened. It should also be noted that Meredith’s administration responded to the 2020 petition by saying they wouldn’t give the Meredith community the day off because there were “an abundance of options” for them to vote. Even with Dr. McLennan asking students if they were attending the March to the Polls, he didn’t include any information on if he asked about their overall plans for voting.

Dr. McLennan wants students to “prove [him] wrong” when it comes to voting habits. But the reality is that they aren’t even proving him right. Not attending a walk to the poll doesn’t mean students don’t care about the issues that they’re voting on. In short, student attendance for one event isn’t indicative of their attitudes. If the intention is to increase voter turnout, next time support them instead of attack them.

By Aminah Jenkins, Editor in Chief, and Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor

The full email can be viewed below.

Voting Email
Download PDF • 353KB



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