Four Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) senators are in the process of launching a nonpartisan project for political advocacy, voter registration and civic participation that aims to make politics more accessible for students and increase voter turnout among younger generations.
The students in charge of the project are Sean Olson (‘26), Suzan Nuri (‘27), Peter Wirfs (‘25) and Sal Chapell (‘27). The group stated that the project idea emerged from their concern about low voter turnout rates as well as students’ limited knowledge of the political process and government affairs.
According to The New York Times, young people vote at significantly lower rates than older generations due to not having developed a habit, possessing less flexible schedules and prioritizing other forms of political participation, such as protests or social media posts. The article also identifies three main methods to boost voter turnout among young people: getting individuals the necessary information to register to vote and make it to the polls, reducing systemic barriers to registration and voting, and increasing civic education to ensure that young voters are informed about the different political platforms and how to cast their vote.
This new project is inspired by a similar initiative, WU Votes, which was started in 2020 by student Sarah Dean (‘21) alongside other Willamette students, including the current ASWU president Mira Karthik (‘24). WU Votes had the objective of increasing voter turnout in the 2020 general election, but the initiative was discontinued shortly thereafter.
Nuri, who had the initial idea to carry out the current project, stated that apart from voter registration events, the group plans to invite elected officials from the local and state levels to campus so that students have the opportunity to ask them questions and become informed on political issues. The project, which is geared toward all interested students regardless of what state they legally reside in, also aims to inform students on what bills are being voted on by legislators so they can be held accountable and the voters can make informed decisions.
“For a long time, I wasn’t really involved in politics because it felt so overwhelming,” Nuri mentioned. She hopes that by connecting students directly to their government leaders, the group can help other students understand political events better and remain hopeful in their abilities to enact positive change.
The project, Chapell mentioned, is still in the vital stages of early planning. “This planning stage is really important because it helps us hone in on how it’s going to help Willamette students and be something that they see the impact of.”
The group emphasized that the voting improvement project is not an initiative for a specific election or limited time, but instead, a long-term undertaking that can be continued by future students and sustained for many years.