From 2012 to 2016, voter turnout among college students increased from 45.1 percent to 48.5 percent. Auburn’s chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center decided for the 2020 election cycle, they would attempt to bring this number up again through partnering with Tiger Transit.
For the past few election cycles, the Tiger Transit has been stopping close to almost every polling location in the Auburn area, except for the one at the Boykin Center. The other three include Clarion, Dean Road and Frank Brown.
Don Andrae, director of Auburn’s Transportation Services, said in October 2018, SPLC and Tiger Transit began to discuss ways to improve on this issue.
“Recently, it has received more attention from the SPLC, and that is why we are re-examining what we can do to help,” Andrae said.
On Feb. 12, 2019, SPLC and Tiger Transit held a meeting to begin forming a solid plan in order to serve the most students possible in the coming election season.
“It was brought to our attention that they felt the number of students needing a ride to the polls had grown to the extent that we needed to alter the previous plans,” Andrae said.
Beth McDaniel, the president of Auburn’s chapter of SPLC, said it is important for college students to have easy access to the polls from campus.
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“Democratic participation in young adulthood contributes to ongoing engagement across the adult years, and a functioning and healthy democracy is dependent upon inclusive civic participation,” McDaniel said.
According to the 2017 American Community Survey one-year estimates, 19 percent of the Lee County population consists of young adults from ages 18-24. This was part of the reason McDaniel and the rest of SPLC has been fighting for improvements in voter participation.
“Given that college campuses each have access to a large number of young adults, institutional resources to educate students on their voting rights and help alleviate barriers that prevent voting participation, there is a need for support such as this on college campuses,” McDaniel said.
Though nothing has been solidified, there has been a basic plan laid out between the two organizations. According to the SPLC, for the March 2020 elections, the buses will run from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and drive students to every polling location. For the month prior to elections, this new option will be advertised on the Transit Visualization System, so students will know of this new option.
“There are still some logistics that we have to work out as some of the polling places do not have the turn radius that we will need for the buses to stop there,” Andrae said. “We may still have to stop within a short distance of the polling location, but we will certainly try to get as close as we can.”
The main point of this new plan is to assist getting students to the polls, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure that students will actually get out and perform their civic duty. McDaniel said there are a lot more factors that will need to be implemented in order to raise these numbers.
“For this initiative to be successful, students need to understand their right to register and vote in their community in which they attend college, if they choose, to be knowledgeable about the voting process; to be aware of voter registration requirements and deadlines that determine eligibility to vote in Lee County and to recognize the importance of maintaining an up-to-date registration,” McDaniel said.
In order to enact this plan, the SPLC is planning on working closely with Auburn University, specifically with Tiger Transit, SGA and Student Affairs. In order to get the word out, they are continuously updating the Lee County Commission and Auburn City Council to get their progress officially documented.
“Young people have the unique experience and needs, and your perspectives should be heard and represented by our elected officials,” McDaniel said. “Exercising your right to vote is one way to help ensure this.”
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