Cesar Maceira will vote for Barack Obama this year, but in late October was busy studying Mitt Romney’s stances on education, healthcare and the economy. He was to playthe Republican challenger during a mock debate at Bronx Community College five days before the election.
Maceira, a Democrat, said it’s not about supporting either candidate. “All we’re doing is presenting the facts,” he said, “the main idea is to put everything out there.”
The debate was one of many initiatives at the college happening before Election Day. Teachers say students are interested in the issues, but apathetic towards the voting process. Campus clubs organized contests and other awareness events to help get students registered and to the polls on Nov. 6.
“I don’t think that the young generations realize how important their voice is,” said Maceira, 24.
Kimberley Valesquez, 17, is one of six students volunteers who work the campus chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group. They spent weeks handing out voter registration forms and helping people fill them out.
“A lot of students walk past us, or [are] already registered,” she said, “but it means a lot more to the politicians if they register as a student.”
In addition to the NYPIRG campaign, the college ran a contest between school clubs – rewarding the club that sent in the most voter registration forms with a $500 donation to their activities. In total, 1,019 students have registered, according to Melissa Kirk, head of student life.
Kirk, who has worked at the college for 11 years, said the students are enthusiastic, but the election process confuses many first-time voters. She said the extra awareness from the events will be helpful.
“We want to make sure that we have as little barriers as possible for people when they wake up Nov. 6,” said Armando Chapelliquen, NYPIRG project coordinator at the college. He said volunteers will call registered students the night before the election to remind them to vote and help with any questions.
“Our agenda is about getting people to the voting polls,” said Carmen Meyers, the team’s faculty supervisor, “It’s not about choosing a side.”
Meyers, who teachers public speaking and interpersonal communication, said the event is a chance to inform students who aren’t following the election. She said only about 5 percent of her students watch the debates.
Raul Fernandez, 18, a criminal justice student at the college, said this is a typical attitude for students.
“They don’t say that they don’t care, but they don’t believe in voting,” he said. Fernandez was a volunteer project leader for NYPIRG’s voter registration initiative.
“We’re growing up, we have to get our opinions out to the politicians,” he said.