Inside USD

USD Students Experience Election as First-Time Voters

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuesday’s mid-term elections produced something for everything — winners, losers, drama, surprises and plenty of intrigue about how the next two years will pan out in the world of politics.

One clear winner Tuesday evening was witnessing the scene at Frank’s Lounge, located in the Hahn University Center on the University of San Diego campus. Several USD students enrolled in political science classes munched on pizza, drank sodas and watched the election results unfold on three flat-screen TVs. To each of them, Nov. 2, 2010, marked a milestone in their lives — their first election in which they could cast a vote. It was their initial foray into a democracy.

To Alli Chlapaty, a freshman double major in political science and environmental studies, “it was really exciting to have a say, finally.” Chlapaty, who is from the Chicago, was a high school junior in 2008 when then Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected President. “My sister got to vote for the first time in 2008 and got to vote for him. It was cool to live in Chicago at the time, but I didn’t get to vote. This time my vote counted.”

Chlapaty, an honors student in USD Professor Del Dickson’s Introduction to Political Science class, voted via an absentee ballot in Illinois. She was focused on the races for governor and senate, the latter which involved a candidate who was a representative from her district.

San Diego’s Rebekah Rylant, a freshman in USD Political Science Professor Noelle Norton’s Introduction to American Politics class, said voting gave her a sense of pride and responsibility, but it was also a little nerve-racking. “I didn’t want to do something wrong,” she said. Some of her nervousness stemmed from not knowing how the voting process would be handled at her polling place. When she found out it was merely filling in the circles on her ballot, she quipped, “My experience of filling in bubbles on my SAT and other tests paid off.”

Bridget Laroche, another of Dickson’s students, voted absentee in her native Arizona. She enjoyed the voting experience, preparing herself by reading as much as she could about the candidates to make an informed decision. She refused to base any voting decision on political ads that tend to only bash the opposition. “If you have a strong message about what you can do, you shouldn’t have to resort to personal attacks.”

Two other USD freshmen, Cliff Abbott and Laura Wetherell, voted absentee in their respective Northern California cities.

Abbott, enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program at USD and leaning toward majoring in English, is from Placerville. He expressed happiness to be a voter, but was keen on what an election reveals.

“Either voters are going to show their frustration or anger with what’s going on or you’ll see that people are happy with how it’s going,” Abbott said. “Elections fascinate me because you get to see where we are as a country, see what values people are pushing and, for a few hours, the underbelly is exposed before everything goes back to normal.”

Wetherell, from San Francisco’s East Bay, is a student in USD Political Science Professor Casey Dominguez’s Introduction to American Politics class. The chance to vote for the first time was “fulfilling,” Wetherell said. “It mattered.” She prepared for the election with her own research as well as attending an information session about the California propositions that was hosted by USD’s Department of Political Science and International Relations faculty last month.

Ashley Beaton, a sophomore from Massachusetts, made sure she would be actively involved in her first election. As a student residing in California, she registered to vote here and went to her polling place, Mark Twain High School, just up the hill from the USD campus. “It was important to me to go, wait in line and to be part of the process,” Beaton said. “And I got the (‘I voted’) sticker.”

Beaton’s involvement extended beyond voting. A member of the executive board of USD’s Young Democrats Club, she participated in a student debate held on campus last month with members of USD’s College Republicans Club. Beaton, taking USD Political Science Adjunct Professor Gary Gray’s American Politics class, learned a lot, both in the classroom and through her club participation. But Beaton said the true highlight came just prior to the Nov. 2 election. She attended a campaign rally attended by newly elected California Governor Jerry Brown at a restaurant in Old Town.

“The rally was really cool. It was inspiring to hear the speeches and to actually see these people here in the community and interacting with everybody,” she said. “It gets people excited to vote.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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