New Jersey Gubernatorial Election: Helping Students Become Informed Voters

New Jersey Gubernatorial Election: Helping Students Become Informed Voters

Elizabeth Matto, an associate research professor, directs the RU Voting initiative

RU Voting, run by the Eagleton Institute of Politics' Center for Youth Political Participation, encourages students at Rutgers to pay attention to politics, register to vote and turn out on Election Day. Rutgers Today spoke with Elizabeth Matto, an associate research professor who directs the initiative, about plans to engage students this fall leading up to the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election and the value for students to get engaged in the political process.

Tell us about the RU Voting project and what’ve been doing to get students to register to vote this fall?

Matto: The mission of RU Voting is to equip and encourage Rutgers students to register to vote and to participate in all elections – local, state and national. Our website is a one-stop shop with everything Rutgers students need to know, from correctly completing their voter registration form to finding their polling location on Election Day. As we’ve done in past elections, we work with offices around campus to remind students of the upcoming voter registration deadline and direct students to our website so they can access nonpartisan and comprehensive information.

Are students paying attention to the gubernatorial election? What can be done to get them engaged?

Matto: Although the attention paid to this upcoming election doesn’t compare to last year, I find that students are very attuned to the political process right now. Much of that attention is directed toward Washington, of course, but I’ve seen in recent survey data and have sensed on this campus that there is a growing appreciation among students of the impact of elections, not only on the course of American democracy but on their daily lives. The more RU Voting and Rutgers University can do to raise awareness of the connection between the lives of students and the make-up of local and state government, the greater the likelihood that students will participate in elections.

What activities do you have planned to mobilize students so they follow through and vote Nov. 7?

Matto: In addition to the virtual outreach we do via our website and social media platforms, we hold a number of events throughout the semester, not only to engage Rutgers students in the election but to encourage them to be informed and active citizens. RU Voting held campuswide voter registration drives on Constitution Day and National Voter Registration Day and will partner with student groups and residence halls in the coming days to register students to vote by the Oct. 17 deadline.

We will also be hosting debate watches for the gubernatorial debates. On Oct. 10, during the first debate, which is co-sponsored by Rutgers, we are co-hosting an event at The Yard with free food, giveaways and opportunities to register to vote. Later in the semester, as part of our “Pizza and Politics” series, RU Voting will host an event, “Political Activism 101,” that will spotlight politically active Rutgers students and offer students advice on how to engage more actively in the political process.

What do you want students to know about the value of getting involved with the political process?

Matto: I think it’s critically important that students understand not only the impact of the political process on their lives but the influence they can exert on the course of politics. The decisions made by officeholders at all levels of government will affect them – from tuition rates to health care to future job prospects. This is a generation with a great deal of political power at their disposal – in 2016, there were more 18-29 year olds eligible to vote than seniors 65 years or older. To be sure, political engagement is multi-faceted, and there are a number of ways to express your political preference, but elections and voting matter. I think the prevailing perception is that officeholders don’t pay attention to young adults. I’d argue thought that if young adults exercised their political power consistently and in large numbers at the ballot box, then officeholders would notice and respond.