Incentivize students to vote with information, not grades

Henry Corwin

The 2020 election season is upon us. Soon, people will line up at the polls, and there will surely be no shortage of encouragement to vote — especially on campus.

Last fall, my rhetoric instructor provided an incentive for students to vote in the midterm elections. Students who presented proof of voting received either an extension on an assignment or 10 bonus points on a paper. Like many other students, I took advantage of this to gain the extra credit.

But I was uninformed — I knew very little about the different candidates, their policies and their past actions. While I am unhappy with myself for not knowing more about the election, I wasn’t going to pass up 10 bonus points. I was originally not planning on voting at all, as I thought it would be detrimental to vote in the election with little knowledge about the race. 

While incentivizing students to vote aims to encourage students to exercise their civic rights, it is actually detrimental to society. It brings uninformed voters to the polls, a force just as damaging to democracy as citizens failing to vote altogether.

Rhetoric and writing professor Davida Charney said she offered her students 15 points on their participation grade if they brought an “I Voted” sticker to class. She said students should begin to educate themselves and participate in politics in college.

“College is the time when people can start making a habit of voting, can start thinking and finding things out and learning how to sort between sources that are more trustworthy and less trustworthy,” Charney said. “I have always felt that (voting) was an important thing to push to students in my classes.”

According to professor Roderick Hart, an expert in civic participation, political knowledge is a strong indicator of a citizen’s propensity to vote.

This means those who have educated themselves enough to make an informed decision in an election are likely to vote anyway. Therefore, providing students with a grade-based incentive to vote just makes it more likely that those have not done their due diligence for a race will vote.

When asked about the possibility of her incentive bringing uninformed voters to the polls, Charney said that, other than being a US citizen and an adult, there are no other qualifications required to vote.

“If we think (voters being uninformed) is a problem, we need to take steps in our society to encourage people to be better informed,” Charney said.

With just under 50% of eligible voters showing up to the polls in the 2018 midterm elections, low voter turnout is definitely an issue. However, the best way to combat low turnout is to encourage citizens to keep up with politics — people should actually want to cast their vote. While incentivizing students to vote likely increases voter turnout, it ultimately enables uninformed voters who have not invested time in learning about politics. 

Corwin is a journalism sophomore from Long Island, New York.