by Rebecca Rhodin
Meredith Malone searched the supermarket for a deal, and she found it: someone she could register to vote.
“There was a woman selling pretzels and I said I’d buy two pretzels if she would register,” said Malone, a student at Montgomery County Community College. “She had wanted to vote all along.”
Malone was recruiting voters as one of Adjunct Lecturer Terry Wimmer’s students fulfilling a new College requirement for its political science classes, to take an active role in an election by signing people up to vote.
Wimmer’s two classes registered nearly 800 voters, far exceeding the goal of registering five voters per student.
“The students came away pretty pleased,” said Wimmer, who is teaching at the College’s West Campus in Pottstown. “In a number of cases, they got more than five – they got whole families. In some cases, they registered new citizens voting for the first time.”
Indeed, the students also registered a new appreciation for the democratic process.
“I got 100 percent more involved,” Joseph Founds of Perkiomenville said of the recent national election. “It’s a privilege for us to have this.”
Nick Gruninger of Royersford noted that many students are too busy scraping by in school and having parties on the weekend so “it’s a good idea for colleges to get more involved in elections.”
“This is the future,” he commented. “Farther down the road, this will have an impact.”
Students from both Wimmer’s “American National Government” and “Introduction to Political Science” classes had about a month to approach relatives, friends and strangers with the purpose of drumming up voters by the Oct. 9 deadline.
Wimmer noted that, at first, the students weren’t especially fired up for the assignment.
Gruninger agreed he wasn’t stoked to start his search.
“I’m not a big project person,” said the Navy veteran and criminal justice major. “But it’s good to get students involved, so they understand that they have an opportunity to vote, even if they decide not to.”
Gruninger added that he ran into a couple of people who didn’t want to vote because “they don’t think their vote counts — even my brother.” Then there was his best friend, who favored the Republicans but hadn’t signed up.
“He trash-talked my views so I said ‘Why don’t you register?’ I planned to vote for Obama and he said his vote for Romney would cancel out my vote.”
Switching his party affiliation, Founds got to count himself as one of his registrations and recruited others among coworkers, families and neighbors.
One neighbor had been interested in the 2008 election but too young to vote. Finding such a first-time voter “was the nice thing about registering people,” said Founds, also a criminal justice major.
“Some people I know don’t feel like dabbling in politics,” he added, explaining that the nastiness and perceived lies of the campaigns had turned them off. Founds got the cold shoulder a few times but didn’t let it stop him.
“There are a lot of negative people who don’t want anything to do with government,” agreed Malone, the psychology major from Pottstown who bagged at least two of her voters in the supermarket.
The students felt that the voter registration drive and Wimmer’s class coinciding with a national election had changed their perspective on current events permanently.
“The class in general got me more into politics,” said Gruninger, who said he otherwise wouldn’t have watched the presidential debates because he had already made up his mind. “I followed the 2008 election but this year I researched the candidates more.”
Wimmer, who himself worked on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in the 1960s, hopes the voter registration project sparked his students’ curiosity about the political system they are studying.
“I have a sense of professional pride that the students experienced the process,” he said. “It was one of my goals for the class.”