Count on Us!

April 12, 2012 | CUNY Matters

University Student Senate Chairperson Kafui Kouakou intends to do something novel in November: cast his first vote as a newly minted American citizen.

Coming from Togo — a country that has seen coups, political murders and arrests, political parties banned and the constitution suspended during its tumultuous 50-plus years of independence — he knows how valuable the right to vote is. “Where I come from, we had a president who took the power, and even if he got the vote in a so-called fair election [in 2010], people got into fights and got killed. Here you actually put the people in power. That’s a big difference compared to a place where you can vote, but the outcome of the election is preset.”

Student Senate Chairperson and Board Trustee Kafui Kouakou, right, discusses voting campaign with student Kimberly Blake and recent graduate Robert Agymang. Kouakou is leading voter registration efforts.

“Students made registration a priority after the Legislature authorized a tuition increase last year,” said Kouakou, a master’s student in economics at Brooklyn College. He anticipates completing his American citizenship process in September — just in time to register to vote in the presidential election. “By voting, students will send a strong message to our elected officials that they have to listen to our needs,” he said.

“Nothing gets to the heart of being an American more than voting,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein agreed. “Voter participation and civic involvement are essential to a strong, vibrant democracy. If you are not yet a registered voter, now is the time to complete an application and make sure that your voice is heard in the upcoming elections.”

The University Student Senate is cooperating in a broad campaign by the University, launched in March and called March Forward and Vote. The goal is to encourage students, faculty and staff to register and vote in the upcoming federal and state elections. Besides registration activities, there will be wide-ranging discussions of issues on CUNY campuses in an election season that will see three New York primaries — for the Republican presidential nomination, seats in the House of Representatives and the state Legislature — as well as the general election in November, when the next president will be chosen.

CUNY has made registering easy. The CUNY Votes website (www.cuny.edu/vote) has a downloadable New York State Voter Registration Form that can be printed and mailed to the New York City Board of Elections, along with a how-to guide and deadlines for registration. In addition, free, high-quality and confidential citizenship and immigration law services to help immigrants on their path to U.S. citizenship are available at www.cuny.edu/citizenship.

The University also joined an advisory board organized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, a nonpartisan agency that strives to enhance the role of city residents in elections. Also joining are voter registration and civic engagement groups like Rock the Vote and Voto Latino.

If all CUNY students registered and voted, they would form a potentially formidable bloc. The University has the highest student enrollment in its history, with more than 271,000 degree credit students at the start of the academic year and almost 270,000 adult and continuing education students.

This year, New York State will have three primary elections and the general election, and each has its own registration deadline for new voters:

·March 30 was the last day to register for the presidential primary election that takes place April 24.

·June 1 is the last day to register for the federal primary election that takes place on June 26.

·Aug. 17 is the last day to register for the state primary election that takes place on Sept. 11.

·Oct. 12 is the last day to register for the general and presidential election that takes place on Nov. 6.

March Forward and Vote continues the University’s long-standing, nonpartisan educational mission to equip students to be active citizens, and to participate in civic activities to improve life in New York City. Students who are interested in other civic opportunities — such as community service, citywide volunteer activities and cultural events — can take advantage of “Citizen CUNY,” the University’s online entry to student services, which they can access through the CUNY portal (www.cuny.edu/portal).

This intranet service connects to many other University benefits, as well, including job banks and career counseling, veterans’ services, financial-aid advice and much more.