College course involves students in push to register voters

Gettysburg College students are applying what they learn in the classroom to real-world voter registration drives.

College course involves students in push to register voters
Mateo Zemser mans a booth to register people to vote at a recent community event in Gettysburg. (Colleen Seidel/The Gettysburg Voice)

“No matter how they vote, we want them to vote.”

Gettysburg College junior Mateo Zemser stated this emphatically when explaining the goal of his work to get Gettysburg residents to register to vote this fall.

Zemser is part of a class this semester called “Race and the Right to Vote in the United States.” The course requires students to spend 14 hours of service working to register voters on campus and in the community in partnership with the YWCA.

“I’m really into the idea of people choosing their own lives and who governs them,” Zemser said. “As a people, we can change our nation as a whole (by voting).”

The course analyzes the “aspect of race and the politics of voting” by studying “electoral institutions, racial politics and access to the ballot,” according to Professor Lucy Britt, who teaches the course.

While the college offered the course in the past, Britt introduced the experiential part because she wanted students to make connections between what they are studying in textbooks and how it applies to real-world scenarios in the community.

Britt wants students to get out of the “campus bubble” and make connections to the Gettysburg community as a whole. She thinks both the town and the college will benefit from the mutual engagement.

The importance of talking to people about voting, and encouraging and assisting them to register, isn’t lost on students like Zemser. “It’s super important to make the community aware, to make students aware,” he said

Efforts on campus focus on getting students to register at their Gettysburg address so they can vote at local polling places. For many students, this will be their first time voting.

So far the class has registered 25 people in person, but many people register through a QR code provided by the YWCA, so it’s hard to track the total number, Britt said.

The class especially focuses on registering people of color and women, Zemser explained. He tries to make sure these groups know how important their vote is no matter who's on the ballot.

“It’s easy to get caught up in partisan disagreements about elections,” Britt said. “In this class we take a step back to look at empirical evidence about race and voting rights. Then we connect that research to students’ volunteer experiences.”

Students are also working on final projects about race and voting that include conducting interviews and archival research. It’s another way for them to connect the academic literature to real life. Britt said that students who have taken experiential learning courses in the past say it’s “one of their most memorable college experiences.”

The deadline to register to vote is today, Oct. 24, so the students had a final push to get as many people on the rolls as possible. How many of Pennsylvania’s registered voters turn out to cast a ballot is yet to be seen.