Vote Oswego looks to increase voter turnout on campus

OSWEGO, N.Y. — The midterm elections are fast approaching in New York state, and an on-campus organization known as Vote Oswego is trying to mobilize students to get their voices heard on Election Day.

Vote Oswego is part of SUNY Oswego’s political science department and works with students to help them find local polling places, educate themselves on the candidates, and secure absentee ballots.

Nathan Sprenger is a junior at SUNY Oswego and described Vote Oswego as a non-partisan voter mobilization group for SUNY Oswego.

“We’re trying to get as many people as we can to vote in the midterm election,” Sprenger said. “We’re trying to make it as easy and quick as possible.”

Sprenger was adamant about boosting the representation of younger age demographics.

“If you look at the statistics,” Sprenger said, “young people are voting at way lower rates than other age demographics. The people who are getting represented are the baby boomers, the older generations who’ve had power for so long already. Their wants are being represented and ours aren’t.”

Jacob Campo is a sophomore at SUNY Oswego and another Vote Oswego member who echoed Sprenger’s sentiments. Campo has prior experience with getting his peers to vote, which sparked an interest in joining Vote Oswego.

“At my high school, I was president of the Young Democrats Club,” Campo said. “While I was there, I had to organize a drive to get people not registered, but pre-registered to vote, since we were still in high school and I found it very fun and informative to run something like that.”

Campo’s experience with the pre-registration drive and Vote Oswego taught him a lot about the voter registration process, but also surprised him when seeing how little others knew about it.

“The amount of people who don’t know their driver’s license number, don’t know their Social Security number, though, is shocking,” Campo said, “so I really hope that changes.”

Campo feels strongly that college students should get involved in the voting process and that this is the time to do it.

“You see so many college students who like to complain about the state of the country, but something they never realize is that they can vote to change that. A lot of people you see complaining have never voted themselves, and they should come out to vote because you can actually make a difference, every vote counts in a local and state election.”

Dr. Allison Rank is the chair of the SUNY Oswego political science department and the professor in charge of Vote Oswego. She was the one who really helped get the program off the ground. 

“When I got on campus in the fall of 2014 — which was a pretty big midterm election — what I noticed really quickly was how little information or interest there was in the election,” Rank said, noting that the only talk of voter registration on campus for that election was the occasional table set up with registration forms.

The voter turnout rate for the entire SUNY Oswego campus for the 2014 midterms was about 8%, a statistic that Rank looked to increase for 2016.

“I thought that was a missed opportunity for both the students to learn how to run a voter registration drive and for our voter turnout rates on campus.”

Using $1,000 in seed money secured by winning a “Shark Tank”-like contest at a 2015 academic affairs retreat, Vote Oswego was able to bolster its efforts for 2016 and beyond.

“So we just went from there, running in 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022.” Rank said, with no plans of slowing down right into the presidential election cycle of 2024.

 “Young people are incredibly political nowadays,” she said. “But what young people don’t understand is how the politics they care about connect to party politics and elections. Even if you don’t expect a political party to do everything you want, having people in office that are more empathetic to your position will always give you a better opportunity of creating the political change that you want.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. If you have any questions about mailing your ballot or finding polling places, Vote Oswego frequently has tables for information running in Penfield Library and the Morano Campus Center up until the election.