By Elise Dietrich
As part of a continuing effort to bring community members and city leaders on campus to engage with students, the Straayer Center for Public Service Leadership along with the CSU Political Science department hosted a series of events to support and educate members of the campus community prior to the November 8 election. The events featured discussions on voting and upcoming ballot measures, and allowed students and community members an opportunity to engage in civil discourse with our elected city officials. Civic engagement is a core value at CSU and a powerful form of social change that can teach us how to use our democracy to make an impact in our local community. Voting is a vital part of civic engagement, regardless of where we are in any given election cycle – including state and local elections.
The first event in the series, Election and Voting 101, featured guest speaker Angela Myers, the Larimer County Clerk and Recorder. Myers, who is currently up for re-election, has held this position since being elected in November 2014. The event focused on key topics about how the election process works in Larimer County, the role of the County Clerk, mail-in ballots, and why voting matters. Speaking to a room of students and community members, she stressed the importance of making a plan to vote including drop box locations as well as how to track your ballot. “It doesn’t matter whether you vote by mail or choose to vote in person at a voting site – all ballots are paper ballots, and all ballots will be transported to our counting facility and will be counted in the same manner,” Myers says. In reference to election night results she says, “if you want election night results, you will vote early. Otherwise, if we receive more than 20,000 ballots on Election Day, we will stop and continue counting the next day.” Myers gave her assurance that Larimer County elections are conducted with the highest integrity and with the appropriate checks and balances in place. Students had the opportunity to ask Myers questions regarding student voter eligibility, voting deadlines, and even internship opportunities in her office.
The next event, Exploring Democratic Reforms, shifted the focus to ballot issues in the
upcoming election. Panelists, students, and community members discussed democratic reform efforts centered on the local ballot measures in Fort Collins this November such as Rank Choice Voting, city council compensation, and election reforms as well as a discussion on 3rd parties. The panelists included Ann Hutchinson (executive director of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce), Melanie Potyondy (former city council member), Steve Yurash (3rd party candidate for congress), and Sam Houghteling (program manager of the CSU Straayer Center). Moderated by Christian Dykson, CSU political science student and former ASCSU president, the event gave panelists the opportunity to offer clear information on where they stand on ballot issues in order to help students and community members make informed choices when it comes time to vote.
“At CSU, we recognize that democratic systems require participation and that results are more representative of our communities when community members are engaged and involved in decision making. We believe that our students are both current and future civic leaders, and the state of Colorado and the country are best served when students from across the political spectrum choose to engage, listen and participate in our democracy,” says Houghteling.
The overarching theme of the event is the pursuit of democratic reforms in an effort to encourage increased participation in elections with more candidates representing a broader range of voters. Panelists all agreed on one issue- being an educated and engaged voter. “I encourage you to do just a little bit of homework to really understand what the ballot issue is asking you as a voter, and use the resources available to you,” says Hutchinson. “We have our ballots on our kitchen counters so not turning it in is just stifling your voice,” adds Potyondy. To learn more about the ballot issues discussed, watch the event in its entirety here.
Most recently, the Straayer Center hosted Local Legislators and Student Town Hall, which gave CSU student leaders from ASCSU the chance to engage with local elected officials on City Council and the County Commission. ASCSU works to unite members from diverse campus organizations and political backgrounds in a nonpartisan student government. The elected officials in attendance included Jeni Arndt (mayor of Fort Collins), Shirley Peele (city council member), Jody Shadduck-McNally and John Kefalas (both members of the County Commission). In an open forum over lunch, student leaders came prepared with questions regarding student involvement with city council, issues such as the “U+2” residential occupancy changes, and challenging the ways in which elected officials engage with students. Student leaders had their voices heard, and the elected officials provided feedback on ways to achieve their goals within the community. Arndt stressed the importance of student leaders showing up to city council meetings to share their thoughts on important city and county issues that greatly affect students during their time at CSU. Students were encouraged to take advantage of the open door policy of the elected officials, and reach out to their representatives with questions or concerns about issues taking place in their community.
These events provide a way for us to foster civic engagement among our student body and learn more about our democracy. The series aims to increase student voter participation, and give students clear information on ballot issues and why their vote matters. Building a more inclusive local government is possible when all communities – including CSU students – have a voice in decisions that affect their daily life.