Encouraging SLUdents to vote: election party

Aproximately 30 students gathered in the Wool Ballrooms on Nov. 8 to watch election results come in. Midterm elections were held in all states with different legislative offices up for grabs. Missouri’s ballot featured the Senate and House candidates and ballot measures such as Amendment 3, which called for the legalization of marijuana. The watch party was a part of SLU’s voting and civic engagement programs. Riya Shah, SLU junior and Director of Voter Engagement, is working to engage voters on multiple levels. “I noticed there was a low voter turnout in our student group and for those who are socially and economically disadvantaged,” Shah said. Youth voters have a historically low turnout in the polls. According to CIRCLE, a nonpartisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement in the United States, there has been a near 39% increase in youth electoral participation between the 2016 to 2020 elections.

Shah believes that her peers’ voter participation is tied to an increase in civic engagement, “I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of civic engagement with protests and petitions, but when it comes to showing up to the polls there’s definitely less turnout.” Shah’s passion for voter engagement also carries a personal meaning. “For me, South Asians are typically the most underrepresented and I did want South Asians to vote and have some sort of representation. Also, students have the least turnout in the polls and I wanted to be a representation for both of those voices,” Shah said.

The watch party featured speaker Sabrina W. Tyuse, an Associate Professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice. She has been registering voters for decades, including the students in her classes. Tyuse also offered advice to students at the watch party when it comes to casting their ballots. “No one politician is going to give you everything you want. But, if you can get 80% of what you want, then you should consider that when voting,” Tyuse said.

She also emphasized the importance of being present in the community when advocating for voter engagement. Tyuse recounted a story of a voter approaching her while tabling, saying “‘I was so hoping you’d be here.’” She explained the significance of that moment, “This woman had seen me and my team and passed us, but we’d planted the seed. I want to make sure you do the same.” Two community organizations, SLU’s Black Student Alliance and the Alpha Omega City-Wide Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., tabled during the watch party.

Haley Anderson, secretary of the Black Student Alliance, said tabling at the watch party was an effort to promote their organization and mission. “Our goal is for people to see that Black Student Alliance is here and for us to use our power to vote collectively to create change,” said Anderson. Inaya Smith, President of the city-wide chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, explained that voter engagement is built into the core of their mission. “Voting is a very monumental thing to our sorority. It was one of our first public acts after being founded as a sorority in 1913 as we participated in the women’s suffrage march.” Mikayla McDowell, Vice President of the city-wide chapter of Delta Sigma Theta agreed. “We’re here to represent our organization and to just engage with the rest of the community.” One of Delta Sigma Theta’s five pillars or “thrusts” is political awareness and involvement. “If you’re a Delta, you should vote,” Smith said.

Overall, Shah says the biggest obstacle when targeting and engaging student voters is the lack of awareness and resources. “If more people knew about our clubs or our teams and we had a bit more help, people might be a bit more receptive,” Shah said. Shah and her team encourage anyone who has a passion for voting accessibility and rights to get involved with SLU’s Center of Social Action, located in Wuller Hall.