Local elections historically see lower voter turnout than presidential and midterm elections, but members of Greek life are working to change this trend with a push to get students to vote in the Nov. 5 College Park City Council election.
Consisting of about 3,000 students, the Greek life population is larger than that of most student groups. Those students alone could translate into serious political muscle in city elections, said Michael Sikorski, Interfraternity Council external affairs vice president.
Recognizing this, the Student Government Association reached out to the IFC, the Panhellenic Association and individual fraternity and sorority chapters, encouraging them to register to vote and to push their chapter members to engage in city affairs. Greek life members, including chapter presidents and executive board members of both the IFC and PHA, embraced the idea, leading to an effort that is “unprecedented in recent memory,” Sikorski said.
The SGA governmental affairs committee also pushes voter registration — primarily through its Terps Vote initiative — during presidential and midterm election years. This year is neither of those. But SGA Governmental Affairs Director Lindsey Anderson saw November as an opportunity to help students engage in local elections, which she said could have a more direct impact on their lives compared to national elections.
“For a lot of Greek life members, especially those who live in District 3, the ordinances City Council enacts have a direct impact on their lives,” said Anderson, a senior English and government and politics major. “We saw a chance to give students a voice in the City Council, and we wanted to help get us there.”
Anderson estimated about 280 students registered after the voting initiative, and she said SGA representatives will continue to reach out to registered voters to turn out.
For students in Greek life, support for the movement comes from a desire to have their voices — and the voices of all students living off the campus — heard in the city, said David Friedman, Phi Gamma Delta chapter president.
“It’s very important for the Greek community to start paying attention and becoming proactive with issues in the community because they do affect us and they are affecting us,” said Friedman, a junior accounting and finance major. “There’s an opportunity to make a difference given our numbers, and voting is one of the ways that we can enact change.”
Prior to the Oct. 8 registration deadline, the IFC contacted chapter presidents, urging them to encourage members to register to have a voice in the city’s election. Sikorski said he passed along information from the SGA, adding messages about why students should care and how they could get involved.
Other chapter presidents discussed the importance of registering and voting in chapter meetings, sent out emails and reached out to individual members, especially those who live off the campus and are directly affected by the city’s ordinances.
Friedman estimated the Phi Gamma Delta chapter had about 40 new registered voters this semester. And Chris Ratchko, Sigma Nu chapter president, said his fraternity saw more than 20 registrations.
For Ratchko, this election cycle is an opportunity for students to elect a representative who will advocate for them in City Council meetings. The SGA voted Oct. 2 to support two candidates: university graduate student Matthew Popkin and incumbent Robert Day, in District 3, which encompasses downtown College Park and its student-heavy neighborhoods. Popkin and Day are also running against incumbent Stephanie Stullich; the three will vie for the district’s two city council seats.
“There is a clear disconnect between the students and members of the community, so I think it is integral that we put someone on City Council that has our interests in mind, can represent us well and prove that we truly do want to make College Park a livable community,” Ratchko said.
The movement in Greek life has been notable, Friedman said. But he added that it’s important for all students living off the campus — not just those from the Greek population — to get involved in the city and its election.
“It’s an opportunity for all students to come together and change the place where we all live,” Friedman said. “We have a unique ability to motivate our members as we are a student-run organization, but the movement shouldn’t end with us — we should all unite under this and make a change.”