Local officials encourage students to register to vote and cast a ballot in this year’s general election

After years of low attendance at the polls, local election officials are urging young people to vote. 

“When I talk to students, a lot of the time I ask them, ‘What extracurricular activity are you in?’ They might be in band or government and so forth. But as funding gets cut, those extracurricular activities get cut as well,” said Michelle Fajman, director of the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration. “Everything we do in our day-to-day lives relates to government in some way, shape or form. So, we all should have a voice in who makes those decisions on our behalf.”

Campus voter turnout is low. Just 28.5% of voters in precinct H5-13 in Hammond – which votes in PNW’s Anderson building — showed up to vote in the 2020 primary, according to Lake County records.

“So often, people aren’t voting,” said Fajman. “They’re letting the small [number] that do vote decide … things for them.”

Across both Lake and Laporte County, home to PNW’s Hammond and Westville campuses, voter turnout dipped this year. 

Just 23.8% of voters cast primary ballots in Lake County, down from 34.3% in 2016. That means only 85,806 of the county’s 360,444 registered voters actually voted. LaPorte County had a similar experience. Just 18.2% of voters showed up for the primary, down from 35.2% in 2016. 

“Our senior citizens are tried and true. …They’re the ones who vote,” Fajman said. “We’re trying to change for younger folk, by letting them know how these elections affect their day to day lives.”

Raquel McCafferty, a junior Communication student, is convinced.

“I think everyone should vote because it’s important to be a representative of your community and what you stand for,” she said.

Even students who can’t find the time between work, school or other obligations to register, often recognize the importance of voting. 

“I’m not registered to vote because I haven’t had the time but think it’s very important because voting can help decide the outcomes of things like laws, what happens with tax money or what’s being prioritized by our officials,” said Marketing senior Tony Mai. 

Registering has become more convenient.

“In the olden days there was someone called the deputy registrar and only those individuals could register you to vote,” said Fajman. “They’d come to your home or different functions and register you there. That was the only way. Now, … you can register by just filling out an application and sending it in.”

And, it can be more efficient than that.

“If you have a driver’s license or state ID, you can go on to indianavoters.com and you can fill out the application online and register,” said Fajman. “It’s much faster.”

But what if when election day comes, you’re confined due to illness or injury? What if you work the 12 hours the polls are open? Or maybe you can’t get to the polls the day of the election because you lack transportation or will be out of town? These are all valid reasons to vote absentee.

So far, Lake County has nearly 13,000 absentee ballots it will mail out by Sept. 19, a record number.  The previous record was in the 2008 general election, when the county had 11,954 absentee ballots.

“When voting absentee,,, you can receive and send a ballot by mail or we have in-person early voting. This means, any registered voter in the county can go to any one of our 11 early voting sites and vote,” said Fajman. “You can even vote by travel board, although that’s more or less for people [who] are confined to their homes, nursing homes or hospitals. In that case, we send out a bipartisan team that will go to them in person with a voting machine.”

 Early voting begins at the Laporte County Complex and Lake County’s 11 early voting sites on Oct. 6.

Lake County has expanded efforts to make voting accessible.

“We recognized that a lot of our voters may work in Chicago and need a little extra time to get to their site,” said Fajman. “Now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays our satellites will be open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. We will also have four Saturdays with available voting hours, compared to last year’s two.”

If all else fails, people can show up at their polling place on Nov. 3. in the community where they registered to vote.

Indiana residents trying to identify their voting location can get help at www.indianavoters.com.

Most polling places are taking precautions because of COVID-19.

“If you’re worried about COVID, you can go to [an] early voting center or to the polls on election day and know we will have hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, plexiglass dividers and finger cots or gloves so voters don’t have to touch the machines with their bare fingers,” said Fajman. “A lot of our facilities will require masks and we ask you bring your own.” 

Madison Dinga, a junior and registered voter, understands voting is key to making change, both socially and politically. 

“Being able to vote is extremely important to me more now than ever. I want to vote so there can be change for minorities, police reform, more support of the LGBTQ community and so women’s rights won’t be further taken away,” she said. “It’s important for more young people to vote because we can be the change that needs to happen. It can help people who aren’t as privileged as us and can show the older generation that we’re serious about the things we want.”

Additional information can be found at https://www.lakecountyin.org/portal/group/voters/page/default, www.laporteco.in.gov or indianavoters.com.