JACKSON TWP. When she travels to California June 1 through 3 to take part in a national conversation around the key issues that resonate with younger voters, Stark State College student and New Franklin resident, Rebecca Race, said her main goal is to bring what she learns back home.
"We have to look at the issues, which are more important than whether the person running is a Democrat, Republican or Independent," Race said. "And I wanted to be a part of changing the mindset that your vote does not matter. People are so disgruntled and think their vote doesn’t matter - that the system is fixed and the winners are already selected."
Race, an administrative office professional major who is also employed by Stark State as an administrative assistant, said this is particularly important with regard to young voters – even though the majority of students she works with are nontraditional and "mostly in their 30s," she said.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 21.3 percent of eligible 18-29-year-old voters turned out for the 2014 midterm election, compared to 36.4 percent overall – that number itself the lowest since World War II, according to a University of Florida study.
"The whole idea is to get people to vote for the issues and the candidate who gives you the best hope of resolving those issues," she said. "But if you see how many people who can vote do not vote – that can make a big difference. There are so many votes left on the table."
Race is among 135 students from colleges and universities through the United States selected as delegates to College Debate 2016.
Delegates will attend a planning and training session on the Dominican campus in San Rafael, Calif., this week to organize issue-focused events and outreach on their home campuses. The programming will focus on promoting civil discourse, understanding responsible digital citizenry, and avoiding stereotypes and assumptions while focusing on the issues rather than party politics.
Using #collegedebate16 as an identifying tag on social media platforms, delegates will begin to engage each other and their networks.
Following the meeting, they will participate in online meet-ups, webinars, and other technology-mediated tools to expand the conversation.
The Knight Foundation is funding the travel, hotel and meals for Race, who is one of only six Ohio college students selected for the initiative.
Race said the issues that matter most to her personally and, not so coincidentally, to the students with whom she works closely on a daily basis, include affordable and good health care, job creation, affordable living wages, national security and free or affordable college tuition, regardless or part-time or full-time status.
"The big one is tuition," she said. "Some students feel college should be free, but a lot of students feel that if it is free, there isn’t much incentive to do well. And our $153.60 per credit hour at Stark State is one of the lowest in the state."
Race said that she is personally "all for making it affordable," but stopped well short of endorsing tuition-free higher education.
Jobs, Race said, are another hot-button issue with Stark State students.
"Governor Kasich is saying jobs have increased – part-time jobs have, but not full-time," Race said. "People need to be able to make a living wage and be able to pay for rent, food and health care."
She lays part of the blame at the feet of the Affordable Health Care Law, which many employers have reacted to by redefining full and part-time job descriptions.
"People are being penalized for not having health care, but they are not making enough to pay for it – but in many cases are making too much for Medicaid," Race said. "But there are not enough good jobs; you simply can’t raise a family on $12 or $13 an hour."
Concerning election cycle
These complicated and far reaching issues, Race said, are being played out against a Presidential election she called "a circus."
"You have Hillary Clinton with Benghazi; Donald Trump who comes up with such off the wall ideas and speaks about women so terribly; and Bernie Sanders, whose heart is in the right place, but is that the direction we want our country to go? I am more concerned about this election than I think I ever have been," she said.
Race said she is, however, honored to be taking part in it in such a direct fashion.
Following the June meeting, College Debate 2016 delegates will return to Dominican Sept. 9 and 10 for a moderated town hall meeting, which will be live-streamed to campuses across the country.
During the town hall, the students will agree on the key issues – and very specific questions – for the presidential candidates to address. These questions will be presented to the moderators of the 2016 presidential debates.
"That is huge – that our issues are being given that kind of attention," Race said.
For more information on College Debate 2016, visit collegedebate16.org.