“The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Those words, from the first letter of Peter in the New Testament, pretty much fits my Election Day experience, as voters and poll workers made the day a special one for a class of 16 first-year students.
As an 18-year-old college student, I worked to help register fellow students to vote in San Antonio, Texas. We were among the last ones to get our voter IDs, even though we registered before others who got their cards. I almost didn’t get to vote. But nobody cared about young voters back then. The line was that 18-21-year-olds were the voting bloc least likely to cast a ballot, so why bother with them? I’ve heard stories of college students denied the right to vote on their college campus elsewhere (forcing them to vote absentee), as some local government officials worry about students somehow changing the results of an election.
Of course, the percentage of younger voters has risen over the last several elections, but it was barely noticed by the media. You kept hearing how younger voters were disillusioned and disaffected, according to the pundits, or just not very knowledgeable about the issues.
At LaGrange College, I had my “cornerstone” class (a class of freshmen who get their introduction to college by taking a course with a focused topic) participate in the 2012 election, writing an election guide highlighting similarities and differences between Romney and Obama, and present those findings on campus. They registered some voters. And I sought to get them to work the polls.
Troup County Probate Court Judge Donald Boyd trusted me and my students enough to plug us in as poll workers. But would the students be up for the rigors of registering voters for more than 13 hours? And how would longtime locals react to the presence of these new students. I was stressed…and have the blood pressure readings to prove it.
At 5:20 a.m. on a rainy morning, all of my students were ready. I stopped by all but one precinct (the result of ferrying half the students who did not have cars to their classes). English Professor Nina Dulin-Mallory helped me with dropping off and picking up students. And the results stunned me. All but one gave me glowing reviews of the students and what they did. The students had offers to work again in the December runoff (unfortunately scheduled during Finals). Friendly poll workers fed my students some great meals. And the hugs the ladies gave my students will always stay with me.
The myth is that college students are biased liberals. Actually, LaGrange College students tend to lean right, as does this class. And Romney did slightly better among those with a college education than those without one in 2012. As for that myth about lazy young voters, this was the first election where 18-29 year-olds showed up in greater numbers than those over 65.
But here in Troup County, voters, poll workers and their managers didn’t buy into those national myths. They showed some of that legendary Southern hospitality to these new Troup County residents. And there’s a lesson for both political parties … this generation of college student is going to play a bigger role in politics in our future.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College.