The University Center Breezeway is typically a smorgasbord of free treats, drinks and promotional materials on any given afternoon. But tucked among Greek Life representatives and students rushing to class is Monica Bustinza and members of Get Out the Vote (GOTV), registering students to vote.
GOTV is a national organization whose UM chapter last made a name for itself on campus during the 2012 presidential election and has flown under the radar ever since. That was until Bustinza, a senior political science major, transferred to UM from Miami-Dade College last year and decided to breathe new life into the organization.
“I revamped the logo, put a new face to it, recruited students with the help of the Butler Center and Student Affairs, made a Facebook page,” Bustinza said.
As soon as she arrived on campus, Bustinza said she approached Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center for Service and Leadership. Since then, Bustinza, the two dozen members of GOTV, multiple departments around UM and Wiemer have worked to make the university a leading campus for voter engagement.
So far this year, GOTV has registered about 730 students.
“I actually teared up a bit and I got goosebumps just because I felt as though I was the only person who cared about this and there are so many people,” Bustinza said. “There’s a force behind this and I couldn’t have done this alone.”
Bustinza and Wiemer both went to a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference in March, where they signed the university up for the All-In Challenge, a nationwide competition where colleges and universities compete against each other in the areas of voter registration and voter turnout.
The university was an inaugural member of NASPA’s Lead Initiative and was just named a Lead Advisory Institution for 2016-2017.
“That just shows our commitment, I believe, to student population and then also our commitment within higher education that we are an institution that promotes civic participation and engagement of our students on a greater level,” Wiemer said.
UM also pledged the voter-friendly designation by NASPA and CampusVote, which means that based on engagement activities on campus, the university is poised to become a voter-friendly campus.
For Bustinza, this is her ultimate vision. She sees “Get registered to vote” banners, guest speakers, thoughtful discussion about issues that matter to students – an evident presence of democratic engagement at UM.
“From the moment students step on campus, they should know that this is a voter-friendly campus,” Bustinza said. “We’re civically engaged and we want our students to get involved.”
The first step, Bustinza said, is getting students registered. Then, get them educated. Lastly, get them to go vote.
Miami-Dade’s voter turnout in the Florida primary election on August 30 was a measly 20 percent. The college-age demographic also has the lowest voter turnout rate nationally. Brianna Hernandez, a junior political science, history and sociology triple major, said she wants to see this stop.
“I think it’s so sad because it’s our future and our voices need to be heard. We’re so active on Facebook and social media when we don’t like what’s going on, but when people don’t actually vote and that’s where the disadvantage is,” said Hernandez, voter registration coordinator for GOTV.
GOTV is a nonpartisan organization, but Bustinza emphasized one of their goals is to get students as involved as possible.
“We want them to join the Hillary campaign, join the Trump campaign, because that’s what election season is about. It’s fun, it’s exciting,” Bustinza said.
Wiemer said a milestone in his college career was getting registered to vote and voting in a presidential election. That was when it became real, Wiemer said, because he was able to recognize his power as a voter by recognizing his right to cast a vote.
“There is a large number of students and young people across the country and I don’t always know if they realize how much power they hold within their vote,” Wiemer said. “The more that you’re educated on civic participation, I think it’s instrumental in making progress in whatever capacity that may be.”
The last day to register to vote in Florida is Oct. 11. Get Out the Vote tables in the Breezeway from 12-2 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.