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UMass Votes Coalition hosts voter registration event

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(Erica Lowenkron/Collegian)

(Erica Lowenkron/Collegian)

Members from the UMass Votes Coalition organized on the Goodell Lawn Tuesday with one objective: get the vote out.

On the lawn, students could register to vote for the upcoming election. The president of the UMass Votes Coalition, Phil Duarte, a junior majoring in public health policy and advocacy, displayed optimism for his goals that day.

“Goal today is to register 250 people at this voter fair. We’ll be here from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and I definitely think we’ll reach the 250 mark,” he said.

The UMass Votes coalition is made up of several campus groups, including MassPIRG, the Cannabis Reform Coalition and the Civic Engagement & Service-Learning program.

Over the past decade, voter turnout for millennials has been lacking. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 only 46 percent of those registered to vote cast their ballots.

“I think voter registration is extremely important today for millennials,” said Duarte. “Right now millennials will be the largest voting bloc in this election.”

The voter fair was held a day after the first debate between Democratic and Republican nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. At the registration tables, many expressed deep concerns about the two candidates and more broadly, the integrity of democracy itself.

CESL representative Mena Lam, a graduate student studying school counseling, argued that getting the vote out was the only means of revitalizing the spirit of democracy and facing the world’s problems.

“People need to implement their right to vote, especially in regards to the social injustices the world faces,” she said.

Lam continued to comment on the role of social media in the modern political landscape.

“There is certainly a difference between advocacy and activism. You’ll see a lot of advocacy on the internet. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement. But what is the next step?” she said.

Duarte echoed a similar message: “Politicians have begun paying attention as they have gone out more and more. Now more than ever we need people to vote to fix critical issues like health care, higher education and the environment. Big turnout will hopefully fix these political institutions.”

There was an overwhelming consensus among the representatives that voting is an expression of political activism, required for making change and necessary for being heard.

Amherst and surrounding communities including Springfield, Holyoke and Turner Falls, have endorsed movements like CESL’s that emphasize civic engagement in the hopes of educating students on the importance of citizenship.

“We want students to learn about the role of the citizen within the community,” Lam said.

“To really engage and care about their surroundings. Participating as a local, national and global citizen with the faith that they grow not only as citizens, but people as well.”

Primary election day will be Nov. 8,, 2016.

Joshua Raposa can be reached at [email protected]

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