Pitzer Spotlights

2004-2005 Spotlight Archives

Getting out the Vote at Pitzer College

Judy Grabiner, Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor of Mathematics, has long been helping Pitzer students, staff and faculty register and vote. The following interview provides useful information about registering, voting, and helping others do so.

Q: How did you get involved in the “get out the vote” effort at Pitzer?
A: Some years ago, Agnes Moreland Jackson, Professor of English and Black Studies, and I were talking about the 1960s. African Americans in the South and their Northern allies were risking their lives for the right to vote. Eighteen-year-olds who hadn’t reached the voting age of 21 were being drafted and sent to fight and die in Vietnam. But too many of our students, though their right to vote at age 18 was established in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, didn’t vote at all. And we looked at each other and said, “Let’s do something about it.”
Q: What did you do and what do you do now?
A: In those pre-email days, we made flyers, posters, sent letters to students, organized and spoke at forums. We got registration forms and made them available on campus. We sent out notices when the deadline for registration was approaching, and reminded people when the actual elections were coming. Even though Professor Jackson has retired, I’ve been carrying on the tradition. Whenever I see her, she encourages and inspires me to continue.
Q: Why should somebody bother to vote? With millions of voters, what good can one person’s ballot do?
A: After the 2000 election, it’s hard to argue that small numbers of votes can’t make a big difference in the outcome. And a lot is at stake this November.
Q: Why do you think it is especially important that students vote?
A: In the 2000 election, people 65 and over – a group I just recently joined – had a 72% voter turnout. People between 18 and 24 had a 36% turnout. Is it a surprise that the campaigns focus on Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug plans for the elderly, rather than, say, aid for students and colleges, or youth unemployment?
Q: Is Pitzer’s commitment to Social Responsibility related to voting?
A: Yes. Of course people should do more than just vote. Organize for the causes you believe in. Write letters, march, contribute funds and time and effort, engage in debate, and inform yourself about what’s happening. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. Teach. There are many ways to work for a better world. But since elections are the way the country decides who will exercise power for the next four years, voting is crucial.
Q: Can Pitzer students register and vote in California, using their college addresses?
A: Yes, if they so choose. This right was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1979 (Symms vs. U. S.) on behalf of students at Prairie View A&M, a historically Black university in Texas, who had been threatened with criminal prosecution for registering there. Of course, students can also choose to register and vote in their home states.
Q: When is the last day to register for the November 2, 2004, election?
A: In California, it’s October 18. But the rules are different in different states.
Q: How can people find out what the registration rules are in their own states?
A: There’s a government Web page that has links to the election officials in every U. S. state and almost all U. S. territories. Visit www.fvap.gov/links/statelinks.html. Then just click on the name of your state.
Q: What about absentee ballots? How do you get them?

In California, the easiest way is to use the application for an absentee ballot on the back of the sample ballot you’ll get in the mail at the beginning of October. Or you can write a letter asking for an absentee ballot; this letter must contain: 1) your name and residence address as stated on your registration card; 2) the address to which the absentee ballot should be sent (if different from your registered address); 3) the name and date of the election in which you would like to vote absentee (for instance, General Election November 2, 2004); 4) the date and your signature. In either case, your application needs to go to the county election official in the county where you are registered. For a list of such officials by county, visit www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_d.htm

Your application needs to reach your county elections official between October 4 and October 26, 2004.

For other states, you can find the rules by visiting www.fvap.gov/links/statelinks.html
and clicking on the name of your state.

Q: What are some ways alumni can get involved in efforts like the one you and Professor Jackson started?

Any group of alums, or even one individual, can make a big difference. Your political party or other organization may well have its own get-out-the-vote drive. Volunteer for it and join it. You can also work for non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters. In California, you can get registration forms in any post office, public library, city hall, or Department of Motor Vehicles office. If you need more than 50 forms, get on the Web page of the California Secretary of State at www.ss.ca.gov

You can give the forms to your co-workers or neighbors or members of any organization you belong to. The people can mail the forms in by themselves; they’re postage-paid when mailed in the U. S.

You can download a registration form in Spanish, in PDF format, by clicking
“Español” under item #2 at www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_vr.htm

You can get information by telephone about voting, in many of the languages of California:
English: 1-800-345-VOTE
Spanish: 1-800-232-VOTA
Chinese: 1-800-339-2857
Vietnamese: 1-800-339-8163
Japanese: 1-800-339-2865
Tagalog: 1-800-339-2957
Korean: 1-866-575-1558

For other states: again, you can get information by clicking on your state’s name at www.fvap.gov/links/statelinks.html

Q: Can people e-mail you with questions?
A: Sure. It’s judy_grabiner@pitzer.edu. Or if you’re on campus, come by my office, Fletcher 224, to see me or just to pick up a California voter-registration form.
Q: Any last words?
A: For the sake of those who fought and died for your right to vote, and for the sake of those to whose causes you are committed: Make your voice heard. Vote on November 2.