Voter turnout for this past midterm election on Nov. 4, 2014 experienced very low numbers, according to the New York State Board of Elections. According to the data, 11,806,000,472 people registered to vote by Nov. 1 of this year, but only 3.6 million actually turned out to vote.
Although a seemingly small number of 200 voters came out to the polls at SUNY New Paltz on Election Day, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) program coordinator Eric Wood said this number is not as dismal as it may seem.
Last year, about 30 students came out to vote in general elections, Wood said. This number is small mostly because of the fact that it was not a presidential or midterm election — elections which commonly receive a good amount of voters. The 2012 presidential election brought about 900 students to the polls, Wood said. According to him, the majority of the students who registered to vote on campus this election came out to vote on election day.
“Nationally, this election voter turnout was lower than it has been in a long time, ” Wood said. “However, the number of voters on campus were impressive, even though we had to turn away some students because they didn’t know to fill out their current address. Huguenot Historic District and the middle school showed that a lot of students were voting as well.”
This midterm election, legislative proposals included legislature redistricting, school funding and a proposal to have electronic bills instead of paper bills. NYPIRG set up tables all around campus on Oct. 9, 10 and 11 to raise awareness for the importance of voting, to register students to vote on or off campus and to educate students on the proposals. With displays of who the candidates are and what their stances are on certain issues, Wood said NYPIRG’s intention was to educate student voters so that they were prepared to make the most informed decision they could when they showed up to the polls on Election Day.
“It is important for students to know which candidates are representative of issues college students are faced with,” Wood said. “Higher education issues come down to the candidate, not the political party.”
Harvard University came out with a poll in April stating that millennial voters will soon outnumber older voters. With the low voter turnout that has been reported from many of the last elections, some are doubting this prediction.
“Young people are the majority of the voter population, until young people show up to vote, they will not have an impact in comparison to older voters,” Wood said. “Older voters aren’t concerned with issues that affect younger voters.”
Activists such as Wood and other members of NYPIRG urge young voters to understand the importance of their vote. Issues concerning the environment and student loans/funding are the most prominent for young voters and therefore need their opinion, attention and vote. According to many activists, midterm elections are the type of election where single votes matter more than anything, as opposed to presidential elections where the Electoral College is really the deciding factor.
“People have died for the right to vote,” Wood said. “It took a long long time for us to get where we are today. It is important that we take advantage of the opportunities we have.”