A group of Fort Lewis College political science students are working to turn around low participation in elections on campus – setting up weekly educational panels on issues and candidates and working on nonpartisan voter guides and videos.
According to the studies by the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, 41.1 percent of FLC students voted in the 2016 General Election compared with a 50.4 percent average for all U.S. universities and colleges. In La Plata County, 71.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
In the 2014 midterm election, 19.8 percent of FLC students voted compared with 19.1 percent average for all higher education campuses. In La Plata County, 54.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
“We want to increase the sense of civic engagement on campus,” said political science professor Paul DeBell. “We want to show students that their voices matter, and they can make a difference.”
Students in DeBell’s Introduction to Political Science class and professor Michael Dichio’s Introduction to U.S. National Government class will work on videos, voter guides and educational panels.
DeBell said the task for students will be to create engaging and informative voter-educational material – whether through voter guides or videos – that are nonpartisan and provide solid factual analyses.
On Thursday, DeBell’s students heard about the importance of maintaining objectivity in their work from Carol Hedges, executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute in Denver, which puts together numerous nonpartisan voter educational guides on issues of taxes, budgets and fiscal issues and policies.
“What you are looking to do is to be objective,” she said. “I worry – today, everything is viewed through partisan perspectives, and someone will be out there who will challenge you as being a shill for someone. That bothers me as a researcher.”
But Hedges said with any political issue or ballot initiative, a set of established and objective facts can be presented to voters.
“Your political views may affect how you interpret those facts, but there are some objective facts out there that you can present,” she said.
Hedges said the students should strive to reduce proposals and issues down “to their factual essence.”
She also cautioned students to be aware of their own biases and to strip them from their final work.
“You need to think of something from the perspective of someone who views an issue completely differently from you,” she said.
Extra vigilance will be necessary in producing videos and voter guides to ensure that students trust curators and sources of websites and research material they will rely on, Hedges said.
Students, she said, should be asking themselves: Where is the information coming from? What is the perspective of the source? Is it accurate?
Sam Halac, a student from Fort Collins, said Hedges had identified the most difficult task for students – stripping bias from their final products.
“It’s easy to voice our own opinions, but it will be harder to have videos correctly voice both sides of an issue,” he said.