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MassPIRG Pushing to Increase Voter Turnout at MCLA
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:27AM / Friday, November 02, 2018
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City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau goes over the ballot at a voter information session at MCLA's Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation.


MCLA student Ari Battaini, MassPIRG coordinator, speaks with Mayor Thomas Bernard and college President Jamie Birge after the presentation.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — It's a given that young people don't vote. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is hoping to buck the trend. 
 
In one good sign, the nearly two dozen students and others attending a voter information session on Wednesday, at least those of voting age, raised their hands to indicate they were registered and would be voting on Tuesday. 
 
While turnout was low in the last mid-terms in 2014, only 16 percent, MCLA students turned out in numbers of 47 percent and 55 percent for the presidential elections in 2012 and 2016, respectively.
 
"From 2012 to 2016 was a fairly dramatic increase. In fact, one of the largest increases across the nation," said college President James Birge. "We outperformed national data in 2016."
 
Wednesday's Halloween-themed event was the culmination of a voter drive on campus by Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group to ensure that students knew about this year's mid-term and were ready to vote. Birge was joined by Mayor Thomas Bernard and City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau to talk about the importance of voting and how to do it.
 
"Eighteen to 29-year-olds are the largest and most potential voters alive," said Ari Battaini, a student and the MassPIRG campus organizer who has been coordinating the registration drive on campus. "So we're teaching the population the logistics of voting in hopes of a good turnout."
 
The millennials — those approaching their 40s — make up nearly a third of the voting population and the first wave of post-millennials came of age in time for the 2016 election. But their participation rates have lagged far behind the baby boomers and boomers' parents and children (Generation X).
 
"One of the defining characteristics of a democracy is people coming together to voice their interests, their concerns, their support for a variety of different issues," Birge said. "The outcome of that support is voting behavior."
 
The voting behavior of students seems to be high in presidential elections but even then, certain groups aren't taking advantage of the right to voice their concerns that previous Americans fought hard to obtain. In particular, African-American and Hispanic students had far lower rates of voting than white and Asian Americans at MCLA.
 
"How are we making sure that access to messages about electoral politics is broad-based and penetrating so that all students understand what their voting behavior can be?" Birge asked, adding, "It really is about engagement with important issues around us and then we do something with that we vote. That's the foundation of democracy."
 
Bernard said it was about making voting a habit and engaging to make choices that affect people's lives. 
 
"There are critical issues facing Massachusetts in next week's election," he said. "And that's true in every district in every state around the country. That's one of the reasons voting truly matters. It's about who represents us."
 
It's also about making decisions that have direct consequences, such as the three measures on Tuesday's ballot, he said.
 
One would set out very specific ratios for nurses to patients in hospitals across the state and set fines for violations; the second would create a citizens commission to begin an amendment process to overturn the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that increased unregulated funding of campaigns; and third is an attempt to rescind a law banning discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations.
 
Tuesday's election is also unique in that it features an incumbent mounting a write-in campaign. She also went over the logistics of how to vote by filling out the ovals next to people's names as well as how to write in a candidate.
 
"If you're going to write someone's name in make sure it's someone you really want. Don't write a fictitious name in because that wastes your vote," she told the students. "If there is someone you really feel would be a good person, write them in ... but we get people who write in Mickey Mouse. ...
 
"Really be serious about it when you go to vote."
 
Early voting ends Friday; the city clerk's office will be open for voting until 4 p.m., early voting ballots mailed out must be returned by 4:30. The voting is Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center for all five city wards.
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