Dozens of the nearly 360 people who voted Tuesday trotted en masse to the JSU Student Center during a “March to the Poll Hotspot” to cast their midterm ballots so their voices could be heard.
The Student Government Association’s aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign netted almost a 194 percent increase in voting since the last major election at Precinct 49 inside the JSU Student Center.
Young leaders who had assembled students on the Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza on Election Day wanted peers and candidates to know their votes count.
SGA president LaCurtis Powell, a senior criminal justice major from Jackson, said he was ecstatic to see the Student Center bustling with activity as students cast their ballots.
“I’m happy we got a great turnout. … We had a line of people outside the door of the voting area and down the stairwell. That’s really good because it shows that students know the importance of voting. For them to get up and get out of bed, go to class, then vote is really great,” he said.
Powell said Tuesday’s political races are among the most important in the history of their lives.
“This midterm election is critical to getting people we need in office to not only advocate for Jackson State University but the city of Jackson and Mississippi as a whole.” Also, he said, “I wanted to get all my peers together and educate them on the importance of voting and get us all to vote together because there’s power in numbers.”
Powell said some of the hot-button issues cited by students include getting proper funding for the university as well as for the city “because a lot of students live off campus and must deal with issues, too. We just want good representation from our political leaders.”
He said he’s been hearing a lot from candidates willing to advocate for students and has applauded Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy, in particular, for vowing to tackle student loans and debt.
“That touched home because when I first started here I was not on any type of scholarship. I was paying out of pocket and using student loans to help support my parents. To know that this is an issue that Espy wants to work on not just for Jackson State but also for the whole state of Mississippi is wonderful. We need more people like him in office who can advocate for us,” he said.
Jean Lavine, poll manager for JSU’s Precinct 49, said the turnout made her feel “elated” and “giddy.” Her job was making sure all machines were operational, assessing problems and assisting people in voting by affidavits for various reasons.
“After working here at the precinct twice and seeing a total of only six votes one time and 10 the next time, that was heartbreaking. Jackson State is the urban university, and there is no reason that our students shouldn’t be taking this more seriously. This is where you are living now.”
She continued, saying, “These candidates represent you. You’ve got judges on the ballot. If you get in trouble, you need to know that person’s personality and what the individual represents. So, you need to vote in the municipality where it will have an immediate impact on your life.”
Lavine credits JSU for how it responded to this year’s get-out-the-vote effort. She urged faculty and staff as well to continue engaging students and explaining to them the benefits of voting. “Voting could impact appropriation to support your school,” she said.
Meanwhile, she advises that students who desire to cast ballots at the campus site to change their address to 1400 John R. Lynch Street, where JSU is located. If they are registered elsewhere, however, they can vote via affidavit because everyone must be allowed to vote. However, the vote won’t count.
“I can’t turn anybody away,” Lavine said. She suggests to individuals wanting to continue voting at their hometown precincts to contact their circuit clerk and request an absentee ballot.
Not surprising, several students who are fairly new to voting took pride in casting their ballots.
Gaybriel Payton, a junior sociology major from Hattiesburg, said even though he’s from Forrest County that voting in Hinds County is significant because “I’m directly affected by all the decisions our elected officials are making.”
He said he’s especially concerned about fair sentencing of minority people on a number of legal issues, including those caught with a small amount of illegal substances.
One of his friends, Christian White – a sophomore graphic design major who is also from Hattiesburg – said he’s voting because “every voice matters.” He laments that some peers say their voices don’t matter. That’s simply not true, White said.
“Voting really starts with us. If we don’t go out and vote, no one else will. Then, important decisions will be made for us.” He acknowledges also that some young people don’t want to vote and are uncertain as to why they should vote. However, he wants them to reprogram their thoughts and learn more about the historical struggles that African-Americans had in earning the right to vote.
He said he remains inspired that a greater change is coming.
“It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been old enough to vote, but what I’ve seen is the growth in interest from my peers. This is a major change and a blessing.”
‘Take a stance’
Another student isn’t taking voting lightly either.
Jaelin Thomas is a sophomore pre-veterinarian medicine major from California. She said, “I think everybody should get out there and vote because we need more students to participate, and more people in general. We should take a stance, and we can then say we actually voted a particular candidate in office rather than just letting them win.”
Thomas said combating racism is an important topic for her because blacks are being killed for no reason. She then contrasted a world of two realities. “Adult African-American parents have to teach their kids who are new drivers what to do when a cop is behind you. However, Caucasians don’t have to be taught that.”
She also is calling for civility and human decency by suggesting that President Donald Trump end his hard-line immigration policies. She said those seeking refuge near the U.S.-Mexican border don’t pose a threat. “I’m from California. I have a lot of Mexican friends.”
So, Thomas urged her peers to “get out there and vote.”