Website promotes college vote

Nadine Matas / Contributing Writer

Elections are around the corner and FIU’s Student Government Association wants Panthers involved.

SGA, in combination with a website called TurboVote, is on a mission for students to be more politically active.

Alexis Calatayud, president of SGA at MMC, along with the rest of SGA, invited students to attend a workshop headed by the creator of TurboVote.

TurboVote creator, Seth Flaxman informed students on how he started the process of creating the site, what exactly the program is and how it could produce better results on campus.

Flaxman says “The way [TurboVote] works is that it helps you fill out an online version of your voting registration. Then we mail it to you with a stamp and envelope for you to finishing filling out. The we send you a reminder through text of when you need to mail it in – if that’s what your state requires, like here in Florida.”

The program also assists in the process of voting by mail, where allowed, as well as sending other reminders about when and where there is a polling place to participate in elections.

“It’s not easy,” Flaxman says, “we need to wake people up to the world of democracy aside from presidential elections.”

Flaxman explains that when he was in college he was an economics major, yet very eager to vote. He spoke about how he used to take his friends to polling places.

“It’s not always a problem of apathy,” he says.”Sometimes people cannot find out what exactly they need to do to vote, where to go or when.”

“I found that the internet revolutionized a lot of things except the public sector.” Flaxman said.

He told the group how he searched online for a way to make voting easier and more “user friendly” yet found nothing.

That is why in 2010 he started working on the project that was TurboVote in college. In 2012 he launched TurboVote.

Flaxman emphasizes that presidential elections are not the only time to vote, there’s other smaller elections at a state or even county level that a lot of people do not participate in.

Although the program intrigued and seemed helpful to several students in the crowd, the ultimate question seemed to be about how this program would work at FIU?

Flaxman says that he has tried this out on several different campuses across the nation and that he has seen it work for around “60 percent of campus student population”.

Calatayud mentions that she is excited to bring this innovation to FIU and wants to “inform the rest of the students of this and see if they really will support bringing this to our campus.”

Most students, after hearing about TurboVote, have varying opinions and degrees of excitement for it. Berkan Biter, a senior international relations major, agrees that the concept presented, as well as the facts stated in the workshop, seem convincing enough, in his opinion, to bring it to the FIU campuses.

“I believe this would be a beneficial as well as an efficient system,” Biter says, “Many students actually don’t know how to vote or think that their vote would not matter.”

“There’s a lot of reasons students would want to vote but it’s not magic,” Flaxman states, “We need student initiative in order to be successful.”

This is probably the biggest problem addressed during the workshop. The main question was how could they get this program out to all students and actively motivate them to sign up.

Different university scenarios were discussed at the workshop where Flaxman explained ideas he had seen work in the past. He explains that there are two models, a process point or an organizing model.

“In Harvard they incorporated TurboVote sign up with Freshman class registration and it worked to higher their voter registration rate, while some other universities even made it part of the pre-enrollment process,” says Flaxman about the point process model.

The organization model seems more in sync with student run and lead organizations. This process involves bringing groups of students together and having them at a meeting or event where they’re encouraged to sign up for TurboVote. Flaxman claims that both methods are effective in their own way.

“One thing that we did notice,” Flaxman says, “is that there was no success in places where the initiative was not backed by administrative partners.”

According to Flaxman, the whole process, although student driven, cannot be completely student led. He believes the administration within the university must also get involved in order for the initiative to have results.

It seemed that the majority of participating students at the workshop believe that the general information about TurboVote was helpful and even started suggesting ways of involving the rest of the students at FIU to motivate them to sign up for the website.

Ideas such as tying it to Student Government Elections, promoting it at different events, if allowed, such as Homecoming, Uproar or having a sign up session during orientation or even making the sign up a part of registration were among the student suggestions.

Calatayud says, “We need to find ways to work with students and the administration if we want this to work”.

SGA plans to reach out to groups of students, council leaders and administration in order to start taking the first steps in deciding if TurboVote is a good option for FIU and “get the ball running” on making a reality of it on campus.

“I think this should be introduced to the FIU community, because after all, students are the future of this nation and they should vote for the sake of their future.” Biter states.

The students behind the idea of TurboVote being integrated into campus now need to begin plans; the clock is ticking. “Unfortunately, we won’t make it for the primaries” Calatayud mentioned, though she hopes that, if the project is successful, it will be ready for the general elections.

[image from Flickr]

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