A group of faculty, staff, students and community partners are undertaking a nonpartisan mission to make voting a part of the culture both within SUNY Cortland and the Cortland County community.
The initiative, Cortland Votes, is part of the nationwide All In Campus Democracy Challenge, which strives to involve college students in American democracy and instill the values of lifelong participation in the political process.
The main goal of the Cortland Votes project is to increase student interest in voting, elections and civic engagement in college and after.
John Suarez, director of SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement, has helped the project expand in scope over the past few years by inviting local elected officials, including Cortland County legislators, Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin, and others who are politically engaged.
“I realized we had many resources on campus, but I didn’t know just how many resources we had on campus and in the greater community,” Suarez said, referring to the strong support from many people.
The members of the Cortland Votes Working Group participate through teams to tackle issues and plan events. Some of those initiatives include preparing faculty and residence hall staff to answer student questions about voting, addressing barriers to voting and creating information packets on how to register to vote. The COVID-19 pandemic will limit the group’s ability to host in-person events but discussions and watch parties are being planned for the presidential and vice presidential debates as well as for the week of Constitution Day, which is Thursday, Sept. 17.
Panels on specific topics of voter interest including anti-racism, environmental issues and business freedoms vs. community security at the local level are currently being planned.
A ”Votingest County” competition will be held with neighboring Tompkins County to see which can register a greater percentage of voters and have a higher turnout on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Cortland Votes aims to register 80% of SUNY Cortland students by 2022 and make 90% of students registered voters by 2024.
“This is not only a campus focus anymore,” Suarez said. “The mayor and four Cortland County legislators are involved. This is a county-wide effort. The statistical goals that we have are the same for our campus and the greater community.”
“This is going to continue, needless to say, after this election, through the next election in two years and again two years after that,” Suarez said. “The bottom line is that we want this to be a part of the SUNY Cortland and Cortland County culture. This is who we are as a campus and this is who we are as a county. We are civically engaged. We participate in civil, civic decision-making.”
Cortland Votes’ supporters include President Erik J. Bitterbaum; Vice President for Student Affairs Greg Sharer; Director of Communications Fred Pierce; Director of Athletics Mike Urtz ’94, M ’00, and Director of Advisement and Transition Abby Thomas.
The Cortland Votes working group includes individuals from across campus and Cortland County. They are, in addition to Suarez and Tobin, students Shaneya Simmelkjaer, Roman Rodriguez, Callie Humphrey, Raquel Berman, Nick Gallardo and Alexis Pascarella; Director of Corey Union Kevin Pristash ’85, M ‘91; Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies Christina Knopf; Coordinator of COR 101 David Runge; Residence Hall Director Frank Parsons; Suarez; Laura Dunbar, assistant director of the Institute for Civic Engagement; and Cynthia Guy, community outreach coordinator for the Institute for Civic Engagement. Members from the SUNY Cortland community include: Cortland County Legislators Doug Bentley, Cathy Bischoff, Beau Harbin and Ann Homer; Kathleen Elliot-Birdsall, F.E. Smith Intermediate School teacher; Robert Howe and Thomas Brown, Republican and Democratic Commissioners, respectively, of the Cortland County Board of Elections; Sheila Cohen, interim president of the League of Women Voters of Cortland County; Andrea Rankin, the former director of the Jacobus Center for Reproductive Health; and Kevin Dugan, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) regional supervisor.
For more information on Cortland Votes, contact Suarez at 607-753-4391.