Fall of 2018 brought midterms to campus—midterms more important than any Illini’s exam.
The federal, state, and local elections were rocketing through the country. From governor to county sheriff, from members of the House of Representatives to members of the Board of Education, dozens of positions made up the ballot and rested in the hands of American citizens.
So why didn’t more students care? Taylor, then a sophomore at Illinois, kept asking herself this question.
She knew midterm elections don’t receive as much attention as presidential ones, but she expected the tense political climate to draw people to the polls, not away from them. Plus, this would be the very first opportunity for many lowerclassmen to vote. So why weren’t they?
Watching her peers brush past masses of campaigners and voting advocates on the Quad, Taylor finally pegged it down: It wasn’t that students didn’t care; it was that they didn’t understand.
“There were so many people running, so many things to vote for,” Taylor recalls. “You could tell people were kind of like, ‘Well, I don’t know what’s going on, so I’m just not going to vote.’”
That excuse didn’t sit well with Taylor, so she took action.
“Since it was so important to so many different people regardless of what their views were, I decided to do an event where I would do all of that research myself,” she says.
Taylor approached her History department advisor with her plan.
“It was kind of like, ‘Hey, can we do this?’” Taylor laughs. “‘Like, it won’t cost any money, and I can do all the work. So can we set a time and get a room where this can just happen?’”
The answer was a resounding yes. Taylor named the event the Election Candidate Crash Course, secured a classroom in Gregory Hall for a Thursday night in October, and began promoting it to her fellow students.
That was the easy part. But she still needed to research the many candidates’ platforms and figure out how to best present her findings in a factual, nonpartisan way. Otherwise, Taylor’s own preferences could impact the presentation—an issue she was acutely aware of as a double major in History and Gender and Women’s Studies.
“I think a lot of times when you’re so used to being in a space with like-minded people, sometimes you can forget how to just deliver information without also delivering your bias behind it. And if I were to just be delivering my bias behind it, it would defeat the point of the whole event,” Taylor says. “The point of the event was to get people to vote, but also do an informed vote.”
Taylor was extremely careful when making her presentation. Whenever possible, she quoted candidates directly from their campaign websites to avoid adding any bias to their viewpoints. It took hours of work and around 150 slides, but she knew it was necessary for the integrity of the event.
After weeks of preparation, the night finally arrived. Taylor waited by the podium as students filed in, her heart set on turning each one into an informed voter. By 8 p.m., about half the classroom was filled—not bad for a Thursday night. She dove right in, going over all the positions, politicians, and voting processes students would need to know for Election Day.
Taylor was surprised when, after she finished speaking, people in the audience lined up to talk to her. Some said they hadn’t planned on voting before going to the presentation. Others asked if she’d send them her slides so they could study them at home.
“A lot of people, if you just give them that gentle push, they’ll do the rest,” Taylor says.
It turns out that “gentle push” not only inspired Taylor’s attendees to vote, but also invigorated individuals across campus. Following her crash course, Lincoln Avenue Residence Halls held its own election information session using her slides. Other organizations soon followed, hosting similar events of their own.
“I feel like it got the ball rolling for people who wanted to do something, but didn’t quite know what to do about it,” Taylor says.
Taylor started a trend, and she isn’t stopping there. She plans on hosting informational crash courses for each upcoming election, hoping to turn the events into a tradition.
“I’m a doer and like to always keep moving,” Taylor says. “My biggest thing is that you can’t just have a cause; you have to follow that cause with practice. You have to have action behind that cause, and it has to be accessible.”
Taylor hopes new freshmen in particular take her words to heart.
“Yes, you’re 18, but you can vote,” Taylor says. “You have the right to vote, and your vote will matter. So go ahead and go do it.”
Reprinted from Illinois Journeys. Original may be found at https://journeys.illinois.edu/2019/11/26/a-vote-of-confidence/?fbclid=IwAR2jXJ1zasd90jx57bZMtswdmxX6wp5pAeiOgUxceMB00gCE2eQHI2Lxd2o