Vote Oswego: Empowering SUNY Oswego students in political participation

OSWEGO, N.Y — SUNY Oswego’s commitment to assisting students in political engagement is shown through the Vote Oswego program, which is led by Allison Rank, associate professor of American politics and department chair. 

The initiative has played an important role in encouraging student voter registration and has seen success in increasing voter turnout among students over the years. Photo By: Allyson Harry.

“2016 was the first year with Vote Oswego. I believe our voter turnout rate was 30% for a national election. We started Vote Oswego, we got 40% of our students to vote, by 2020 we moved that to almost 60%,” Rank said.

Rank said that if a student is registered to vote, they are 70% likely that Vote Oswego will be able to get them to the stage of casting their ballot and participating in an election. 

Abigail Conpropst, a writer for the New York State Assembly and a 2023 graduate from SUNY Oswego, worked alongside Rank as a staffer for Vote Oswego in 2022.

“I really love and respect Dr. Rank’s passion for teaching young people about the voting process and the importance of elections and for helping future people that are going to go into the world of politics and allowing them to be able to help out their peers,” Conpropst said.

Vote Oswego organizes various events throughout the academic year to promote voter registration. These include activities such as National Voter Registration day events and classroom presentations.

“We were also going into classrooms and they would allow us to do a presentation for the students in that class. We try to focus it more on freshmen because a lot of the time it’s their first election cycle,” Conpropst said.

Holding events to promote registration before important deadlines is another responsibility of Vote Oswego.

“Another important one is the voter registration deadline. Which is important because you can’t register to vote at the polls in New York state,” Conpropst said.

The program addresses traditional barriers to voting access, particularly absentee voting. 

Vote Oswego has a bunch of events that lead up to election day, an example being get out the vote which encourages students to get to their poll places to vote or Vote Oswego will step in and help students send out their absentee ballots, Conpropst said.

According to Conpropst, Vote Oswego hosts multiple pre-election events, such as “get out the vote,” which urges students to go to their designated polling place on election day. Additionally, the organization offers assistance to students in sending out their absentee ballots if needed.

“In 2016 the number one thing we learned was how many students wanted to vote absentee,” Rank said.

“We do work leading up to the deadline to sending out your absentee ballets, but all in between students are doing events smaller events around, like Jeopardy trying to teach students about stuff, lots of tabling,” Conpropst said.

Vote Oswego organized an event on National Voter Registration day, during which the team members intended to coordinate and participate in an activity on campus in the quad, aiming to encourage students to register for voting, said Conpropst.

For Vote Oswego, alongside registration, education is one of their most important goals.

“Vote Oswego does more than does the voter registration thing, its main focus is teaching students how the process works so they can carry that information with them for the rest of their lives,” Conpropst said.

The program also provides resources for students to learn about candidates and issues in their district.

“We provide people with a ballot website and they type in their address and that gives them information about specific candidates and specific issues that are on the ballot,” Conpropst said.

Kraig Tai, a senior at SUNY Oswego, said he has registered to vote due to Vote Oswego. Working with Vote Oswego he said he was able to register to vote and participate in the election, which he would not have done otherwise.

Tai said voting is significant and voters can use it to make the changes they want to see.

“It’s important to vote, especially if you want to see changes in the system,” Tai said.