On September 20, student organizations and departments at Mississippi State University will organize campaigns and events for National Voter Registration Day.
Thessalia Merivaki, an assistant professor in the department of political science and public administration, said her department plans to host guests and set up voter registration drives to celebrate.
“The September 20 event is part of a larger effort to engage more stakeholders from Mississippi State University, local election officials, the state election official, other organizations and of course hopefully national stakeholders,” Merivaki said.
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson will be a guest speaker on National Voter Registration Day, and he plans to actively help with registration efforts.
“We’ll do a public session where we’ll do some questions and answers, and we’ll talk a bit about voter registration and why it’s important for students to be engaged,” Watson said.
Along with Dr. James Chamberlain and Dr. Leslie Baker, Merivaki said she received a grant from the Scholars Strategy Network to support voter education activities at MSU.
MSU’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration will implement a program called Building Trust in Elections, which involves gathering research at voting-related events.
“A lot of the interventions we do have to do with peer-to-peer outreach, faculty-led instruction about elections, and homework on these processes in the classroom. So a lot of things that involve collaboration,” Merivaki said.
Merivaki said she hopes the planned events will raise awareness among students outside of the political science field.
“We hope that when we engage outdoors, we broaden our reach to other students from other disciplines, and they see the benefit and importance of being politically active,” Merivaki said.
Watson said outreach was important regarding student voter turnout and that outreach was her focus for Tuesday’s events.
“Once the early ones get involved and they start telling their friends about it, it seems to grow from there,” Watson said.
Watson said he believes voting is important because individuals can hold elected officials accountable for their actions.
“I think it’s such an important part of governance,” Watson said.
According to Merivaki, the voting process for students living on campus is complicated.
“Living in the dormitories offers some complications because of the address. They don’t have a solid residential mailing address to receive their voter registration card,” Merivaki said.
Without a proper residential address, Merivaki said the student’s voting location was affected.
Currently, there are no polling stations on campus. Previously, Humphrey Coliseum housed a polling station before being removed in 2017 due to scheduling conflicts with the NCAA, according to Merivaki.
However, Merivaki said efforts are being made to identify two new polling places near campus by 2024.
For now, students must vote in their designated voting area in Oktibbeha County or in their hometown. Merivaki said students can either go home to vote or request an absentee ballot.
As for mail-in ballots, Merivaki said that process was difficult due to the notarized application and attached postage.
“It’s a more cumbersome process for students because they may not know where to find the notary,” Merivaki said.
Oktibbeha County has several notaries, including Assistant Election Clerk Sheryl Elmore. For more information, call 662-323-1456.
Merivaki said she’s had students in the past who either had trouble receiving the application form or didn’t automatically get the mail-in ballot application.
“It’s not easy to vote in Mississippi. The same goes for recording,” Merivaki said.
Jessica Pettis, a double major in political science and communications, said she would help Merivaki by serving as a liaison between the PSPA department and other organizations on Tuesday.
Pettis said she had been involved in voter registration efforts on campus since her freshman year.
“’I’m really passionate about making sure students know their voices are heard because you’re coming to college and you’re away from your parents for the first time. It’s really a time to explore yourself, your beliefs and how you feel about things,” Pettis said.
In collaboration with her, La’Katherine Campbell, a graduate in business administration, will ensure the smooth running of the day.
Campbell said the main goal of the event was to make the process of registering to vote easier and more accessible for students.
“Voting increases the impact of making your voice heard. I always say if they don’t give you a limit, don’t stop,” Campbell said.
Campbell was also involved with the Mississippi Votes organization in Jackson, where young people come together to move Mississippi forward.
“I feel like most of us feel like our vote isn’t going to count or one vote isn’t going to help. In fact, it does,” Campbell said.
The Department of Political Science and Public Administration sponsored this article.