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As next month's College Park City Council elections rapidly approach, a coalition of student groups spent three weeks registering students to vote before yesterday's deadline and doubled the number of students the SGA signed up last municipal election.
Before the 2007 city election, a Student Government Association initiative registered about 350 students to vote. But last year, the Student Government Association, MaryPIRG, College Democrats and College Republicans used their "TerpsVote" coalition to gain more manpower in their quest for student votes in the Nov. 8 election and garnered about 750 registration forms.
"In reality, [taking] three minutes to register to vote is the easiest thing to do," said David Bransfield, head of MaryPIRG's voter registration. "We just think that voter registration should be as easy as possible and students should be given the opportunity to register to vote."
This year, the groups have been attempting to turn out the vote throughout the campus — and that starts with educating students on why voting matters, according to SGA Director of Governmental Affairs Zach Cohen.
"This is our base unit of government," Cohen said. "They have immense control over our day-to-day lives. For students to understand that a municipality has all of this control is really important."
The second step of the battle to gain more student voters — only about 130 voted in the 2009 city election — is to sign them up, Cohen said.
For the first time, the groups worked with the Department of Resident Life to give a voter registration form to every student living on the campus, according to Cohen.
To accomplish this, the groups involved in TerpsVote have been tabling outside the diners and approaching students in the dorms to attempt to reach those who have not yet registered or did not realize they had to re-register after changing addresses, said Sam Zwerling, the president of MaryPIRG. If a student moves apartments or dorm rooms, they are required to re-register, she said.
"I think there just needs to be a lot more education out there about how students can get involved," she said. "And something we, as a society, don't emphasize is the importance of voting and how these decisions affect our everyday lives."
As the groups worked together to increase this education, they gained momentum the week before yesterday's registration deadline. Bransfield said, of the 750 students registered, more than 500 were completed within the last week because of the mobilization of student volunteers to increase registration numbers near the deadline.
City officials said if students want their concerns addressed in the city, they need to make their voices heard in the election.
"We have more students living in College Park than ever before," said District 4 Councilman Marcus Afzali. "What rules are made is going to impact your quality of life, and if that's not a reason to vote, I don't know what is."
Because of poor student turnout for past city elections — only about 25 to 50 voted in the 2007 city election — student leaders said their attention is now focused on getting students to the polls now that the deadline for voter registration has passed.
SGA will be putting together a voter go-to guidebook in the coming weeks to inform students on the positions of the candidates, Cohen said.
"One of the things we're really focusing on this year is that registering students is half the battle," Cohen said. "We're really focused on making sure they show up to vote."
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