Northwestern University students take a leap into civic engagement

Joyce Wang working at the Norris University Center on the Election Day.
Joyce Wang working at the Norris University Center on the Election Day.

By Xiaoyi Liu
Medill Reports

“I already voted, can I take a sticker?”

“Take a doughnut, take a sticker. That’s really fine, go ahead.”

It was Election Day and these were the cheerful conversations at the Northwestern University’s student center. Students visited the table set up by the university’s Center for Civic Engagement and collected  “I Voted” stickers, laptop stickers, doughnuts and other souvenirs.

Sitting at the table was Hailey Cox, a Northwestern junior studying Human Development and Psychological Services.

“I’ve definitely been a part of that engagement aspect, like just convincing people to go vote, showing people how easy it is to vote, answer any questions people have about voting,” Cox said.

Cox was working as “personal voting ambassador” for NU Votes, a non-partisan initiative of Center for Civic Engagement designed to provide the Northwestern community with accessible and understandable information about voter registration and voting procedures.

The university campus in Evanston had two polling places for students to vote at Patten Gym and Parkes Hall.

But most problems centered on absentee ballots, said Cox, a  fellow since September with the Center for Civic Engagement.

“A lot of people who are from different states have requested absentee ballots, and they are receiving them very late. I know people who received them yesterday and it’s too late for them to fill it out and be able to send them back by the deadline,” Cox said. “I also know people who just never received their absentee ballots at all.”

Cox also noticed that things as small as buying an envelope and buying a stamp can deter people from voting.

“They say they will but then when it comes down to it they might not have the time or they might not have the motivation to actually get it done,” she said.

The most common solution, Cox said, was registering on Election Day in Illinois. Grace period registration, authorized by each election authority, extends the regular registration deadline.

Joyce Wang, program assistant at Center for Civic Engagement, also spoke of the “many intricacies” that deter people from voting.

This is why the center had been trying to find ways to make voting easier. Voters were happy that they can stop by the center office at 1813 Hinman Ave. and get stamps and envelopes for their absentee ballots.

“We are even mailing the ballot for them,” said Wang. “Because a lot of people don’t know where to go to mail letter.”

Wang voted early in the morning in Chicago’s 46th Ward. Two years ago, she voted absentee in her home state of North Carolina. This was her first time voting in Chicago. “It feels good to be invested in my local community,” she said.

Her identity as a second-generation Chinese American was another motivation to vote. Policies on such issues as immigration and education directly affect Asian Americans, yet many voters from the community said the election did not matter to them.

“I can’t separate who I am from my Asian identity, and my Asian identity is politicized,” said Wang. “The only thing I can do is to learn more about how the Asian identity has been used in politics, and how to empower my community to take that into their own hands.”

Working for Center for Civic Engagement is one of her actions. “I feel like more in tune with the policies across the country, just by reading different states’ absentee ballot requirements,” Wang said. “Even from that you can tell the current political trends of that state.”

Cox was similarly enlightened. “Before working at Center for Civic Engagement, I didn’t consider myself to be very engaged in politics and such,” she said, adding that she also developed a new understanding for the midterm election.

“A lot of times people only care about the presidential elections, that’s not the only thing that matters,” she said. “It’s actually like these smaller elections like the midterms that have more effect on people, because you will elect state and local officials who tend to have more of an effect on your everyday life.”

“I think working at this table is really important and I’m glad that I did it today,” Cox said. “It’s really important for people to exercise their right to vote and just to be able to say who the leaders of this country are, and who the leaders of their state and counties are.”

Photo at top: Joyce Wang working at the Norris University Center on the Election Day. (Xiaoyi Liu/MEDILL)