Hook the Vote, a nonpartisan agency of Student Government, hosted the debate and posed questions concerning voter identification, undocumented immigrants, the D.R.E.A.M. Act, the sonogram bill and contraception. Those issues were chosen because they are the topics most relevant to students, said Dana Henning, agency director and government junior, in an email.
“The debate serves as a way for us to educate students not only on the issues that concern them most, but also to familiarize them with varying viewpoints surrounding those issues,” Henning said.
Three students spoke for each organization. The College Republicans were represented by treasurer and government junior Jordan Nichols, finance junior Danny Zeng and Plan II junior Benjamin Mendelson. UDems communication director and sociology junior Andre Treiber, public health junior Sandra Ogenche and electrical engineering sophomore Pat Donovan debated on behalf of the UDems.
The debate opened the question of whether voter identification legislation is justified and how it affects students. Both sides agreed that preventing voter fraud was important, but UDems representatives claimed that the legislation damaged democracy by barring disproportionately racial minorities and students, whereas College Republicans argued that it protected the democratic process.
“Conveniently, [voter ID legislation] disenfranchises people like students and minorities, people that vote Democrat,” said Treiber, after citing studies that concluded widespread voter fraud is nonexistent.
Republicans countered that voter ID was not a matter of race and argued that a single fraudulent vote was enough to warrant the legislation.
Mendelson said voting has nothing to do with race, but is an issue of ensuring every single person has one vote.
His teammate Nichols added, “Any single fraudulent vote that we allow is canceling out someone’s legitimate vote.”
College Republicans said the D.R.E.A.M. Act will do nothing to fix problems in the United States’ immigration system.
“These are what we call magnet policies,” said Nichols. “Things like the D.R.E.A.M. Act encourage people to come over here and have anchor babies.”
College Republicans said the real solution to issues surrounding immigration is to secure the border. Donovan, of University Democrats, dismissed their position as xenophobia.
“I’m not really sure there’s an impact to this argument other than nativist chest-beating,” Donovan said. “The real solution is obviously comprehensive reform.”
College Republicans were then asked whether legislation mandating that women have sonograms prior to an abortion was consistent with their party’s platform of smaller government.
Mendelson said the legislation does not alter abortion procedures in a major way and that the bill is mainly symbolic.
“It was a very symbolic bill,” said Mendelson. “Doctors are going to do a sonogram anyway.”
His teammate Nichols said he has not paid very much attention to the legislation.
“This [the sonogram bill] isn’t really doing anything I’ve paid attention to,” he said. “I don’t know anyone that’s getting a sonogram anytime soon.”
The debate concluded with both sides urging students to vote and then offering their closing remarks.
Treiber said students become Democrats because the party appeals to their political intuition.
“I think that the way a lot of us decide to become Democrats is to follow politics and then develop a sense that the Democratic Party makes more sense than the Republican Party,” said Donovan. “The Democrats are a party of ‘we’ and the Republicans are a party of ‘me.’”
Zeng summarized the Republican position and said the U.S. was at a pivotal moment in history that required a long-term vision.
“We believe that our country is at a crossroads,” he said. “What we do this year will determine where we go in the 21st century.”