The student voter guide project is spearheaded and compiled by the Governmental Affairs Commission; however, Governmental Affairs Commissioner Dan Gordillo said any commission can contribute their own information to the guide if the issues on the ballot are relevant.
“We want each commission, including whoever volunteers, to make a voter guide which is most representative of the commission,” Gordillo said. “For example, if you want the abortion issue, Governmental Affairs is not taking that issue. That’s going to Women’s Affairs, which makes more sense.”
Gordillo said each contributing senator conducts research about the issues on the ballot during office hours, which is then reviewed by the Governmental Affairs Commission and greenlit for the voter guide.
“A lot of it is how we can get the most dense sentences that we possibly can, full of information, but at the same time, it’s not just a wall of text because a student isn’t going to read a wall of text willingly,” Gordillo said.
Last year, during the 2022 midterm election, Gordillo said there were about 50 to 60 student voter guides passed out. He said he expects this election’s hot-button topics to draw more intrigue and predicts that 160 to 180 voter guides will be passed during this election cycle.
One topic that Gordillo predicts will draw many voters to the polls is Issue 1, which concerns reproductive rights, including abortion.
Kennedy Huntsman, Women’s Affairs Commissioner, said her voter guide sought to present Issue 1 in an accessible, nonpartisan way.
“It affects a majority of our constituents and the Women’s Affairs Commission,” Huntsman said. “We crafted (the voter guides) in a way where it was nonpartisan and the information was presented in a very factual way so as to not turn anyone off from the information we were presenting, regardless of whichever side they stood on.”
Huntsman said her commission’s voter guide serves to simply inform students what voting “yes” or “no” on Issue 1 entails in a simpler and more comprehensible way. She also said she explained absentee ballot rules, which may be confusing to some voters.
Huntsman further said that vague language in Issue 1’s wording leans more toward the idea of enshrining reproductive health care, as opposed to exclusively abortion. As such, she said it is an important issue for any voter, regardless of their identity.
“It’s elaborated in a section of the initiative where they explicitly state abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care and continuing pregnancies … Oftentimes, fertility treatment affects cisgender men just as much as it will their partner,” Huntsman said.
For Athens voters specifically, the other major topic of the upcoming election is the mayoral candidates. Environmental Affairs Commissioner Caden Hibbs said his commission spoke with both incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson and challenger Damon Krane about their stances on environmental issues.
“The first question we asked was ‘What projects are in place or will be in place to ensure Athens remains carbon neutral?’” Hibbs said. “The second question dealt with if there had been any discussion of old rental companies being held accountable to encourage more recycling, the third one dealt with the stigma in Appalachia of renewable energy being a job-killer and the last one dealt with fracking injection wells.”
Hibbs said his commission’s voter guide was made for environmentally focused students who may not know or understand the differences between each mayoral candidate’s stance on climate issues. However, he also said that mayoral candidates have environmental affairs in mind for their campaigns.
“Either argument could be made that these two are so similar that there’s really no difference, but I do think there is a bit of a difference when it comes to overall passion and focus,” Hibbs said. “Of course, we try not to lean one way, but we do feel like there’s an importance to studying (the differences) between these two candidates.”
Hibbs said regardless of which candidate wins the election, Athens voters can be confident that environmental affairs will always be in consideration in policy moving forward, encouraging students to be optimistic.
“Whether it’s Patterson or Krane, they should have at least some hope. When it comes to the issue of climate change … there’s real issues being focused on that deal with the environment in Athens,” Hibbs said. “There’s been real policy done by Patterson and there’s a chance to build on that.”
Gordillo encouraged students to pick up voter guides at upcoming tabling events during the week of the election and to do further individual research before voting.
“We have an issue within most people today where they just don’t want to research and they go based off of a little knowledge that they have, or maybe just what their friends or parents said … Do your own research, an educated voter is a powerful voter,” Gordillo said.