Why New Paltz Needs Students to Register and Vote

Why New Paltz Needs Students to Register and Vote

This Op Ed appeared in the October 5, 2017 edition of The Oracle

Voter Registration Deadline: Friday, October 13

By Jane Schanberg

After decades as a take-no-sides journalist I’m coming out — politically. I call it my DIY Change plan. I’m tired of merely liking political posts on Facebook or yelling at the TV when neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville. After many years in neutral, I’ve taken sides and rolled up my sleeves to create do-it-myself change right here in New Paltz.

First, I updated my voter registration so I’d be eligible to vote in local elections. Then I took time to inform myself about village and town issues I consider to be important — like the cost of off-campus housing due to rising taxes, landlord issues, the town’s water problem and economic development controversy. We’re good on the environment and green spaces — no worries there.

And I was one of the 829 residents who showed up to vote in the Democratic primary on September 12 — although more than 5,200 registered citizens were eligible.

Local politicians lauded the primary turnout as large (The Oracle, Sept. 14) and perhaps by past standards it was.

Yet this primary drew a mere 15 to 18 percent of eligible voters and only 150 or so SUNY New Paltz students among the thousands on campus. I view that turnout as tragically low — particularly among the student population. When participation in the community and on campus is so slight, too few people end up making laws and decisions that impact all our lives. It seems many people would complain about how things are rather than vote for how things could be.

Many activist groups in the area are working hard to increase voter registration and participation. Since SUNY New Paltz contributes significantly to the towns’ population, students becoming active citizens who vote — instead of passive citizens who demur — would go a long way towards helping to improve the future of our community and our country.

To that end, here’s an important fact about New York State: registration to vote in the Nov. 7 election has a cut-off date — Oct 13. If you’ve moved since you last registered it’s essential to update your address with the Ulster County Board of Elections. (You may recall first-daughter Ivanka Trump’s embarrassment when she could not vote for her own dad in the 2016 New York primary because didn’t know about the voter registration cut off date).

The New York State Board of Elections has a website: https://www.elections.ny.gov. Their voting deadlines page explains how and where to register to vote. It gives the deadlines and qualifications. It also provides a download for the mail-in form both in English and Spanish.

Voting is the first step each of us can take towards the meaningful change we need. That starts Nov. 7 at the local and county level and includes four propositions on the ballot that require some reading. One, the proposed New York State Constitutional Convention, is especially controversial.

Next year we elect a Congressman to represent our district NY 19 in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. That’s another huge choice, as many know, because it impacts the future of health care, immigration, voting rights, minority rights, climate and the environment.

I live across the street and two doors down from campus. You guys are my neighbors. I know everyone is busy with classes. But I hope you’ll accept this neighborly reminder to register by Oct. 13 (if you haven’t already) and remember to set aside 20 minutes to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In less than half an hour, coming out for DIY Change can make an impact on campus and beyond.

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