In anticipation for the U.S. presidential election, the Undergraduate Student Government held three events to get students interested in voting.
The first event, held on Monday, Nov. 7, saw Mayor Bill de Blasio give a speech in the 25th Street Plaza that encouraged students to vote.
Prior to his speech, an a capella group called Baruch Blue Notes gave a short performance to the growing crowd of students. After an introduction by USG President Daniel Dornbaum, Hunter College student Chika Onyejiukwa took the stage.
Onyejiukwa, the only student member of the City University of New York board of trustees, led the crowd in thanking de Blasio for the support he has given CUNY in the past. She asserted that the election would be important for both CUNY and higher education as a whole. After Onyejiukwa, de Blasio took the stage and began his speech.
“This has not been our ideal of an election year,” said de Blasio.
“This has not been everything we’ve hoped for, but that is not something that should ever stop us from owning our country and owning our democracy. The things we’ve seen and heard this year have been troubling and off-putting and discouraging. But I’m here to remind you that we are better than that. This country is better than that.”
De Blasio discouraged voter apathy within the gathered students, saying that, “When democracy is strained, it’s all the more reason to be involved.”
He also highlighted the positive aspects of the presidential campaign season, namely the nationwide discussions that were sparked about issues such as immigration reform, income inequality, mass incarceration and structural racism. Students cheered as de Blasio applauded Latinos across the country for “standing up to the negative voices” and voting together to have their own voices heard.
De Blasio ended his speech by urging students to encourage other people in their lives to vote. He pushed students to bring people in their lives to the polls, encouraging students to make voting personal by sharing issues they cared about with others.
The mayor’s visit garnered attention among students and further pressed the importance of voting.
“It’s exciting to see [de Blasio],” said Jaelene Valladolid, a mathematics major. “[It’s] cool. You don’t see the mayor every day.”
Two tabling events, held on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, were aimed at increasing voter awareness. Both events kicked off around 12:30 p.m. and lasted until approximately 6 p.m. To get the students engaged, the events featured a lottery and USG representatives who were available to help anyone interested in learning more about voting.
The lottery was a game in which students would guess the political orientation of all states. The person who guessed most of the states correctly won an unlimited monthly MetroCard.
If a USG member happened to win, the prize was the power to choose what food would be served at the weekly USG meetings until the end of November. As students walked by and buzzed around the various club tables, Daniel Dornbaum, president of USG, could be heard encouraging students to try their hand at winning a free MetroCard. The free MetroCard, however, was not the only reason for the tables.
“We are just trying to raise awareness for the elections and get college kids to vote,” said Ryan Powers, executive vice president of USG. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that our votes don’t count if we don’t vote.”
Another USG member had his laptop out to help students figure out what their voting district was and the locations that they could vote at. He also had information about absentee ballots and promoted them for students who had commitments preventing them for voting in person.
“A lot of people can’t do it. We encourage them to vote in advance by filling out an absentee ballot, so if [they] have a valid reason like work or school then [they] can contact the department of education and submit it in advance,” said Ehtasham Bhatti, USG’s vice president of Legislative Affairs. He wanted to get the message across that voting was possible even for those who did not have time on Election Day.
The tabling event was aimed at getting people to vote, regardless of their political stance. Freshman Allan Bailey, who confidently filled out the map, had a theory that the election was going to be decided by closet voters—people too scared to say that they were voting for Donald Trump. In light of Trump being the president-elect, the theory of closet voters may have been true.
Despite the election’s outcome, the tabling event was not a push to get students to vote in a particular direction. It was a USG initiative to highlight the importance of voting and the power we gain through exercising our rights in presidential elections, down ballots and the support of local campaigns.