By Emmanuel Freeman
NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett recently spoke to Tennessee State University students about the importance of voting and how to make sure their ballots are counted in one of the most anticipated presidential elections in decades.
Hargett, along with AJ Starling, of the Davidson County Election Commission, participated in a student-led voter education and registration rally on Sept. 18. The presidential election is Nov. 3.
“(The) Election is just 46 days away from Today,” Hargett reminded the group of students gathered at Hale Stadium.
“I am really excited that members of the TSU Student Government Association are trying to rally their fellow students to get them engaged in the process by making sure they register to vote,” said Hargett, whose office is responsible for conducting and certifying election results. “We want people to be active participants in the formation of their government, because I don’t care what you look like, where you come from or who your mom and daddy are, we are
all better off when we engage as citizens in this process.”
Dominique Davis, president of the SGA, welcomed Secretary Hargett and commissioner Starling, and urged her fellow students to heed the admonitions of the officials to exercise their rights as citizens.
“I hope you all are listening and sharing this impactful information with the students here at TSU,” Davis said. “Like the secretary said, it is one thing to register but another thing to go and exercise your right to vote. Let’s be sure that we are being the change that we want to see in our country because this election is so vital for our generation.”
In addition to the SGA, other organizations like GOVT, or Getting out the Vote, the Men’s Initiative, and Power to the Polls – a national HBCU initiative, helped to organize the daylong campaign.
Organizers said more than 200 students registered to vote for the first time at the rally. Among them were Khai Cole and Jananitabeal Oates, two freshmen.
“It feels really good (to register) because I feel like I can really make a change and a difference in the world,” said Cole, an arts and graphic design major from Memphis, Tennessee. “It feels good to see fellow students doing this because they understand us.”
Oates, an animal science major from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, agreed.
“It feels empowering to register to vote. It makes you feel included in the process and in the family at TSU,” she said.
Starling, a longtime community and political activist, encouraged the students to “act fast and vote in large numbers.”
“I want to see you all vote 2,000 per day,” Starling said. “We are anticipating that this presidential election will have the largest voter turnout in the history of our state. So, if you are voting absentee or mail-in ballot, act real soon.”
Before the rally, officials said TSU President Glenda Glover urged administrators, faculty and staff to ensure that students are actively engaged in the process.
“Dr. Glover challenged us to make sure that our students were aware and participating in this year’s elections,” said Frank Stevenson, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students. “As such, Student Affairs launched the Power to the Poll initiative in collaboration with other HBCUs to motivate our students and our campus community to take advantage of the opportunity to have a say in this year’s elections.”
Nationally, voting hurdles like proof of residence, absentee ballot use, or voter identification often keep college students away from the ballot box. But the students said Friday’s event was aimed to prevent that. They custom designed and displayed stickers and signs that read, “I registered to vote today,” “Steps to requesting a ballot,” “Completing your ballot,” “Deadline for requesting and mailing in your ballot,” and “mailing in your ballot.”
“Many of our students here at TSU are not from Tennessee, and a large portion of our campus will be voting absentee or mail-in ballot,” said Tiara Thomas, student trustee on the TSU Board of Trustee, and brainchild of GOVT, who has also been working with the Power to the Polls initiative.
“We want to make sure that a lot of our first-time voters and those who are voting absentee for the first time know exactly how to navigate that process,” Thomas said. “I am really excited that they are very receptive to our efforts.”
Dr. Andre Bean, director of the Men’s Initiative and coordinator of Power to the Polls, said he was excited about the turnout, as well as the students’ enthusiasm about the campaign and their “understanding of the process to be counted.”
“So, what we want to do is make sure our students are registered to vote, they know what their registration status is, and that they are more educated about the opportunity to vote absentee and mail-in ballot,” Bean said.
A few more rallies are planned up to Election Day.
For information on deadlines to register, early voting, mail-in voting, and absentee ballot, visit https://www.nashville.gov/Election-Commission.aspx