As the Lake Forest College students, faculty, and staff get ready to vote in this year’s presidential election, they reflect on the voter registration process and express their opinions concerning the 2016 presidential election.
“A lot of students don’t pay attention to politics,” Associate Professor of Politics James Marquardt said. “They’re confused about where to register and how to register, but having them vote is important.”
Marquardt is a deputy voter registrar. In this position, he worked to ensure that members of the College community knew how to register to vote in elections during the year. Marquardt and another deputy voter registrar, Associate Director of the M/LS Program Carol Gayle, partnered with Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Robert Flot to send students emails about registering to vote.
Gayle and Marquardt set up a table outside the cafeteria and were available for appointments to register students. Gayle said, “We’ve registered 80 or 90 students. The students make comments saying they’re so excited to vote. The presidential year is a big year—the presidency is really what gets our attention.”
The efforts made by the College to register voters is entirely non-partisan. “No one talks politics, we’ve never had a conversation with students about who they are voting for,” Marquardt said. “We don’t try to shape their decision making.”
Gayle said that some students she has spoken to have not been keen to vote. “Some students say, ‘I’m not going to register to vote because there’s no one good to vote for,” Gayle said.
Gayle said she has noticed that many students had not yet decided on a candidate. Instead, they were still examining the candidate’s qualifications. “There’s a fair amount of engagement with qualifications,” Gayle said. “There are people not highly committed to their candidates. When they’re not choices that are clear-cut, it’s difficult. I sympathize with them.”
Two students expressed similar concerns about having a difficult choice to make.
“I don’t know who to vote for,” Paul Dunham ’17 said. “They’re both terrible options. You have to vote for someone, right? I’m still trying to figure out who the lesser of two evils is. I tend to be more conservative, but when the conservative candidate is insane, it makes things different.”
Justin Stevens ’17 said, “Donald Trump has a lot of things people don’t like about him, and people don’t like Hillary Clinton for a lot of good reasons, too.”
Despite that, Stevens is definitely voting. “It’s important, even in a situation like this, to voice your opinion and vote so the worst of those two choices doesn’t get into office.”
Gayle said, “The American system requires you to make compromises or strategies before you vote. We ask people to make deals in their heads and their hearts.”
Some students agree with this sentiment. “I will vote for a third-party because the two top candidates don’t interest me,” Bridget Deguia ’18 said. “The election is a joke.”
Stevens expressed frustration “knowing that the bipartisan style of government we have is forcing us to choose between these two not-great candidates. I feel sad that our country has gotten to this point where we are weighing our options between two candidates that the majority of the United States doesn’t feel comfortable backing.”
Others see one candidate as definitively more favorable than the other. Daniela Amos ’18 said, “I was not initially that supportive of Hillary Clinton, but I don’t think there’s a question that Donald Trump is not a good person.” She said, “He has shown instances of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, bragging about sexual assault, and that’s not acceptable. Hillary Clinton has her flaws, but she demonstrates a much more humane side.”
Gayle said she has never experienced an election where candidates were expressing such unpleasant statements about one another.
“Tempers are raw, phrases are ugly, insults are abounding in the public arena,” Gayle said. “I’ve never seen that ugliness on our campus.”
Amos expressed similar sentiments. “I’m an international student, so this is the first time I’ve lived in the U.S. during an election,” Amos said. “At times, it seems like a show. People are unhappy with the candidates, and it’s concerning to see the way the discussions are framed because of the rhetoric of Donald Trump. In general, people don’t believe in their own importance to vote.”
Gayle is optimistic about students’ understanding the gravity of voting in this year’s election. “People seem pretty responsible,” Gayle said. “There’s not a lot of bravado, and students are taking this quite seriously.”