Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea spoke to students at the University of Rhode Island this past Tuesday on behalf of the Rock the Vote Campaign, encouraging the college demographic to vote in upcoming elections. Â
On this particular Tuesday, known as Super Tuesday, 12 states and one U.S. territory voted in the primary election. It’s a significant date in the primary season that in the past has indicated each party’s nominee. Â
Some out of state students in Massachusetts particularly may have been able to cast their Presidential Preference Primary vote yesterday, but Rhode Island’s Primary Election will not take place until April 26.
In Gorbea’s opinion, registering to vote in the primary and general elections is one of the most important things millennials can do to become more involved in the political landscape.
“Because people don’t expect you to come out and vote, what better thing to do than to actually do it,” Gorbea asked the audience. “If we can spike up numbers for an election that everyone thinks is taken for granted, surprising things can happen.”
In Gorbea’s own personal experience, she was not the preferred candidate in her party when running for secretary of state, but she attributes her win to people who came out and decided to vote in the election. Â Many of Gorbea’s voters told her that they didn’t believe she would win, but chose to vote anyways. Â
When elected, Gorbea became the first Latino to hold a statewide office in New England and is currently the only Latino Democrat to hold a statewide office in the United States. Â
One of Gorbea’s main points of the discussion was that voters are ultimately the people who determine which candidate will hold office, not whoever the media preordains.
University President David M. Dooley said he disagrees with criticisms leveled at college students and believes “America is still a great place,” partially because of students.
“When I talk to you I find that you’re optimistic, you’re courageous, you’re ready for the future and you know what you’re getting into with many respects,” Dooley said. “What I like about you is that that doesn’t intimidate or scare you. You’re ready to change the world.”
Students in the audience did not shy away from asking Gorbea some important questions they had for her concerning social media’s role in politics, civic literacy and better informed voting.
Gorbea did not have a single definitive answer for how students should best evaluate political candidates, but she does believe that Rhode Island needs to better educate people on the political process starting from a young age. Â
“I’ve just hired a Civics Education Coordinator at the Department of State,” Gorbea said. “I think if we can show students ‘this is what a ballot looks like, this is how you mark it, this is how you put it though,’ then you kind of downplay people’s anxiety about it.”
Apart from registering and voting ourselves, one of the most important things that Gorbea believes voters can do is encourage others to vote as well. Â
Although Gorbea admits that not everyone is exciting or interesting in politics, the candidates who are elected have an effect on everyone. Gorbea describes voting is a privilege that not everyone in the world is fortunate enough to have.
Rock the Vote, which began in 1990, has since helped register millions of new voters and encouraged many Americans to exercise their right to vote. Â