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“The Voting Expert”

Rebecca Sabetta’s friends joke that she is the voting expert among them, as she frequently shares voting information with them, and last fall she compiled for them a description of all major candidates in Connecticut. When Sabetta, a Northford, Conn., resident graduating in May 2023 with a degree in biology with a concentration in education, needed to come up with a topic for her Honors College capstone project, a project around voting was a natural for her.

Sabetta worked with the Office of Student Conduct and Civic Responsibility to improve accessibility to voting resources at Southern. “Eligible voters may abstain from voting because they do not have the knowledge needed to vote,” Sabetta wrote, “so the goal of this project was to give SCSU voters all the information they would need to cast a ballot.”

While working with the Office of Student Conduct, Sabetta created a Voter Registration Information page by bringing together information from several online resources. She also tabled around campus to spread awareness of the new web page and to answer any voting questions students may have, and she plans on tabling for the office again in the fall, prior to November elections.

What led you to want to create voting resources for students at Southern?

I’ve always been interested in civic responsibility, especially when it came to voting. I was first able to vote in my freshman year of college; that was the 2019 election. I remember talking with a few of my classmates in the Honors College about voting and being shocked that they weren’t planning on voting that day because they lived on campus. They didn’t know how to cast an absentee ballot. It was also impossible for them to drive all the way back home between classes to vote.

As a member of the Honors College, I knew I had to complete a capstone project by the time I graduated. One of the options was a community-engaged research project, which involved working with a community partner and researching an issue in said community. I realized voter education was the perfect idea for a community-engaged research project.

How did you become aware of a need for such resources?

That conversation with my classmates in my freshman year made me aware that my college peers needed more knowledge on voting, but I didn’t realize that there was a need to compile voting resources in one place until I was doing the research for my capstone fall of junior year.

While there were some great resources online, like CT’s Secretary of the State’s voting page, they weren’t geared towards college students specifically. They also didn’t include what to expect when you walked into a polling station. I was lucky enough to have family members there that had already voted during my first election, but I knew not everyone had that opportunity. I needed to share that knowledge in another way.

Do you have any experience with elections — assisting at polling places, campaigning for candidates, etc.?

I don’t have any experience with assisting at elections, but I’ve made it a priority of mine to get to the polls every single election since I’ve been eligible to vote. As someone who’s also registered with a party, I also made sure to vote in the presidential primary in 2020, though the results had mostly been decided at that point.

My friends also joke that I’m the voting expert out of all of us, as I frequently share updates on voting rights and information with them. I even compiled a description of all major candidates in Connecticut last fall for them.

What kinds of research did you need to do to locate and present the resources you provided to the Southern community?

Because I had already voted before, I was already aware of voting rules and what to expect. I just needed to find resources to fact check that knowledge.

I primarily used Google. As I mentioned earlier, the Secretary of the State’s website was incredibly helpful. CT Post also had a great article on what clothes are allowed at the booths, and Voting411’s page on voting machines provided information I hadn’t already known going into my research.

Why do you think it’s important for students to be informed about voting and to exercise their right to vote?

Though it can be tempting to ignore politics because it can sometimes be overly negative or just overwhelming in general, decisions by legislators do impact our daily lives.

One excellent example of this was President Biden’s loan forgiveness executive order. He was elected by the American people, and his decision directly impacted college students. On the other hand, a group of senators attempted to pass a bill that reversed the executive order. This put the loan forgiveness program in jeopardy. By voting for senators and the president, college students across America altered the shape of their college experience.

There are less obvious reasons to vote as well. Our government makes decisions on housing, raising or lower taxes, approving food aid, and protecting or discriminating against certain groups of individuals in the U.S. Any person, college or student or not, can look at different federal, state, and local level policies and find multiple ones that affect them specifically. That’s why it’s so important to vote in every election, not just the presidential or even the Congressional ones. It’s one of the easiest ways to become civically involved, and one with some of the most obvious effects.

From feedback you received from students regarding your website and other resources you provided, do you think students found your project helpful in their learning about the importance of voting?

I haven’t received much feedback about the website specifically, but one aspect I did receive feedback on was tabling around campus. Though my capstone ran from Fall 2020-Spring 2021, I also worked with the Office of Student Conduct and Civic Responsibility through last fall to continue my capstone’s work. I tabled until the elections in November. 

My tabling display was essentially a print version of the Inside Southern page, with the addition of paper absentee ballot request forms for students to fill out. Multiple students remarked that it helped that my display clarified their voter eligibility, while also providing additional information on how to actually vote once they were registered.

Are you planning to keep your voting information website going?

As the website was through Southern, that is ultimately up to Southern. But I would love to continue voter education in the future. I could easily see myself making another voting page in the near future.

I’m especially interested in making an Instagram with the same kinds of resources I compiled for my capstone, as that is one area I feel has untapped potential for young Connecticut voters specifically.

What are your plans for after graduation?

As of right now, my current plans are to continue educating.

I’m currently working as a long-term biology substitute in a school near my home, as well as looking into fall teaching positions nearby. I would also love to become more involved in voter education and hope to volunteer as a poll worker this fall.

Outside of voting and biology, I’m an avid reader and writer. One of my dreams to become a published novelist, and my goal is to have a book published sometime in the next few years.


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