I have hope in the future because I spend every day among college students. It’s an immense privilege. My optimism flows from what they do naturally – they instinctively work together. They understand teamwork, collaboration and cooperation at a level I admire. During this election season, characterized by such incredible division, they represented the very best of democracy – vigorous debate on the issues and a common understanding of mutual interest.
Living in a “swing state” during this past election cycle taught me a lot about the need for democratic renewal. Unbounded arrogance, daring political rhetoric and limitless campaign spending combined to produce a high level of electoral toxicity. I realized this when a local citizen went out of his way to approach me with a concern regarding the voter registration of our students. His fear was students who are permanent residents of other parts of Iowa, or of other states, were being registered to also vote in Pella, thus allowing them to be double counted. Having followed the registration process on campus, I was well aware of the careful steps taken to ensure integrity and could provide him reassurance. His question, which was well short of an accusation, was born of an underlying fear that brinksmanship might determine the outcome of the election.
The mechanics of our voting system are by any modern standard archaic. Many of the industrialized nations of the world, even some developing nations, have far superior technologies to record votes and validate election outcomes. Too often, the process of casting ballots has become controversial given the cumbersome nature of our varied systems among states, even within states. It’s certainly time for better procedures and the technologies clearly exist to accomplish this. I think we would all agree we do not want to have the process cast doubt on the results, so this would be a relatively easy fix if we can get ourselves better organized ahead of the next election cycle.
That said, the deeper challenge is that arguments over voting procedures also suggest an underlying distrust of the opposition. For me this is the bigger issue. How will we nurture a political culture that will avoid the demonization of the opposition? Look to the students.
Each day announcements are shared with the campus community at Central College. During the days leading up to the election, three announcements caught my eye as I scanned through the daily content. I felt a well of emotion rise as I gathered them for this posting and a deep sense of pride in our students.
Here they are:
First, an announcement from our dean of students:
Yesterday, Central hosted a satellite registration and voting station for the 2012 election. I am pleased and proud to tell you that 357 students, employees and community members registered on-site with almost all of them casting absentee ballots. The County Auditor considers this to be a very “aggressive” number and was also very pleased with the turnout. Thanks to Drew Readel, the College Democrats, College Republicans, Student Senate, and Greek Council for their coordination and support.
Second, a pair of joint announcements from the College Republicans and College Democrats:
Election Night Party TUESDAY NOV.6th @ 9 PM in UNDERGROUND MAYTAG!! Come down to watch the results of your vote and celebrate the excitement of Election Night with fellow college citizens!!! (Non-partisan, FREE food and drinks!) Sponsored by College Republicans and College Democrats.
COOKIE POLL on ELECTION DAY Tuesday Nov. 6th @ CUIFS 11am-1pm. Come cast your vote on Election Day with FREE sugar cookies!! Each cookie will have different frosting to represent each candidate! A fun and delicious way to voice your vote on campus! (Don’t forget to vote FOR REAL, too!) Sponsored by College Republicans and College Democrats.
Students will redefine our political culture. They will challenge each other on the issues and yet maintain the quality of relationships that reinforce a healthy community. I especially think the cookie votes are a great idea. I bet the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate would operate at a whole different level if this practice were to be adopted. I can hear it now. Instead of “Members will record their vote by electronic device,” we would hear, “Members will record their vote by choice of cookie.” That alone would change our political culture. I’ll buy the milk.