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   Date: 10/1/08

Smith Students Getting Ready to Vote

By Jennifer DeBerardinis ’11

Next on the calendar of election events: The government department, in conjunction with Smith Democrat and Smith Republican clubs, will sponsor a vice presidential debate party in Seeyle Hall, Room 106, on Thursday, Oct. 2.

No matter who takes the vote November 4, Smith students have already proven they’re winners in this presidential election. Based on the percentage of the student body that has registered to vote, the college is currently ranked seventh nationwide in Rock the Vote’s “Ultimate College Bowl” competition.

But there is still work to be done, emphasized Mara Meaney-Ervin ’09, president of the Smith Democrat club, and Gretchen Hahn ’09, president of Smith Republican club, at last week’s information session about all-things electorate. The session, called “Voter 101,” was sponsored by both student political organizations.

Voter registration efforts by the two clubs and by MassPIRG, a statewide organization that advocates for public interest—including a successful table at Central Check–In—helped add 233 students to the rolls so far this year. In all, 439 Smithies are registered to vote in Northampton.

For students who have not yet filled out the paperwork, October 15 is the deadline, Northampton City Clerk Wendy Mazza told “Voter 101” attendees. Her office will accept registrations until 8 p.m. that night.

“Registrations are coming in fast and furious,” Mazza said. Her office has 2,000 absentee ballots to process, and there is enough work to fill the days of two full-time staff members.

To expedite the registration process, she said, it’s critical that students remember to list their houses — not post office box numbers — on their voter registration forms. Because Smith’s voting district is split, student houses determine whether a student will vote at Northampton Vocational High School or the Northampton Senior Center next month.

The Smith Democrat and Republican clubs will provide transportation to and from both polling locations on Election Day, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Rocking the Vote?

Despite Smith’s registration success, Marc Lendler, associate professor of government, said he’s doubtful that the mobilization of large groups of young people will tip the scales for either candidate in this election.

The prediction of a dramatic spike in youth participation in the upcoming election is a myth, Lendler said. Young people are both immobile — it’s hard for them to get the polls — and lack the habit of voting, he said.

Both candidates may also strike out in mobilizing the fabled contingency of non-voters, largely because they don’t exist, Lendler said. Sixty-four percent of the voting-eligible public voted in the last election, and only 77 percent of the voting-eligible public is registered.

“There is not this huge pool of non-voters out there who are likely to be moved to the polls…by anything done by any campaign,” he added.

But, Mazza said, she foresees a higher Northampton turnout this year than in 2004. “I’m sure we’ll surpass [2004’s voters],” she said.

Smithies may be poised to prove Lendler wrong.  MassPIRG will staff a table with voter registration forms and information every Thursday until Election Day in the Campus Center. Voter registration forms are available at, and absentee ballots can either be mailed in or filled out at the Northampton City Clerk’s Office, located at 210 Main St.

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