Last modified: Monday, February 29, 2016

Precincts, primaries and potential presidents. For college students around the Pioneer Valley, many voting for the first time, casting a ballot on Super Tuesday is an exciting way to make their voices heard.

Most students who were interviewed on the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Smith College campuses this week said they plan to vote in the Massachusetts primary Tuesday.

Students said compelling candidates have grabbed their attention and politically active peers helped them navigate the voter registration process.

“I think people try to wait it out and just vote in the general election, but these are the people who are going to change our future,” said Dione McClenaghan, 18, who will vote for the first time next week.

“Some students don’t know how much their vote really matters,” he said.

McClenaghan, a freshman, said peers in her dorm sparked her interest in the election.

Residents of Moore Hall have been watching election coverage on television together and sharing snippets about the candidates they find online, which are often funny. McClenaghan said about 10 of her friends plan to vote Tuesday.

At Smith College, students are using the Internet to encourage their classmates to vote.

According to Tomika Sales, 18, a freshman studying economics, students at the Northampton college are posting in Facebook groups to remind fellow students about registration deadlines, but she said she has not experienced any pressure about which candidate to choose.

“Smithies are known for having strong opinions,” said Sales, who is excited to cast her first vote. “But this is a place where you can have your own.”

Daniel Walsh, 22, said that he is waiting until the general election to vote.

“I don’t feel strongly about the candidates ... I’m not exactly ‘Feeling the Bern’ yet,” said the UMass senior. Walsh said his vote in November will depend on the candidate rather than the party.

Getting registered

“I think it is especially important to vote this year...I definitely want the right person representing me,” said Karissa Rajagopal, 22, a UMass senior studying nutrition.

Rajagopal registered to vote in 2012 with the help of the UMass Amherst chapter of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, or MASSPIRG. When an election is coming up, the organization sets up tables around campus and invites students to register to vote.

“We ask everyone that walks by if they are registered to vote ... we want them to be registered here so it is easier for them,” said UMass sophomore Phillip Duarte, 19, the democracy campus coordinator for MASSPIRG.

He explained that UMass students have the option to register to vote in Amherst with their on-campus address. The organization registered 328 undergraduate students to vote in the Massachusetts primary by the Feb. 10 deadline, Duarte said.

On Monday, MASSPIRG members plan to go “chalking,” which means they will use chalk to write reminders to vote at popular spots on campus, including chalkboards in classrooms and on the pavement in front of the dining halls. The organization will also send out reminder cards to newly registered voters.

Next steps

MASSPIRG is aiming to register thousands of students to vote in this fall’s general election according to Shawna Upton, 22, a UMass senior studying nutrition. Upton worked with the organization to register voters for the 2012 election.

“I think there’s a lot at stake ... the issues we care about have been highlighted by both parties. It is time for us to stand up and vote,” Upton said.

In 2012, MASSPIRG registered 2,969 students to vote in the presidential election. It registered another 2,454 students during the 2014 special election, according to Upton.

Although a registration goal for the general election has not been set yet, Upton said registering around 4,000 students is “doable.”

In the next few months, Duarte said MASSPIRG will lobby for a polling location on campus. The UMass campus is split into four precincts, two that include parts of the town of Amherst and two that exclusively encompass the university. Currently, the polling locations fall outside the precincts. Duarte said a new polling location would ideally be located in the Campus Center, which would be more accessible to students.

Super Tuesday

State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, said he hopes to see a good turnout Tuesday. Vega pointed to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Republican candidate Donald Trump, saying that they have “ignited” interest in this presidential election.

He acknowledged the crowd of 9,000 Sanders drew to the Mullins Center at UMass last week, saying the next step is to see those numbers show up to vote.

“We’re always trying to target young people,” Vega said. “Young voters are starting to realize that their vote matters ... and that can be huge if you get them to the polls.”

UMass senior Sean Terrill, 22, said he thinks college students will show up to vote, especially those who waited in line to see Sanders on campus.

“If they were willing to wait in line for hours, they’re going to vote,” said Terrill. “This election is really important.”

Stephanie Murray can be reached at Follow her at @StephMurr_Jour


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