‘When disaster strikes, there are no strangers’: Local officials discuss the importance of voting and the past summer of Baton Rouge

Leading up to the 2016 election, it’s important for every voter to become and remain informed. On Monday, Baton Rouge residents had an opportunity to do just that.

Monday evening at LSU’s two-day presidential symposium, “Moment or Movement: A National Dialogue on Identity, Empowerment and Justice for All,” U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and Louisiana Elections Commissioner Angie Rogers collaborated in a government leadership forum to discuss the tense summer in Baton Rouge and more political topics concerning college students. The forum took place in the Holliday Forum of the LSU Journalism Building and filled with LSU students and Baton Rouge residents.

LSU Student Government President Zack Faircloth moderated the forum and began with a question that outlined the low turnout of LSU students in the 2012 election. Only 42 percent of LSU students participated in the presidential election of 2012, compared to the 57 percent turnout of voters nationwide.

“Student turnout is definitely not the highest, but we’re lucky our registration rates in Louisiana are high compared to the nation,” Rogers said. “I think we have some things in the future that could help with participation like new technology, but we have to have funding.”

Rogers mentioned an idea of having barcodes on mobile devices that allows voters to mark their ballot on their own convenience, and walk through an express line at their polling station to expedite the process.

Faircloth discussed the new state law that allows LSU students to register to receive a Tiger Card with a signature line on the back that will enable it to pass as valid voter ID at the polls. He thanked LSU President F. King Alexander for his assistance with that initiative.

“I’m guilty,” Graves said. “I was a college student and I don’t remember how frequently I voted, but I know I didn’t vote in every election. I was thinking about many other things, as I’m sure many current college students are today.”

Graves outlined the importance of voting to students by stressing that no matter the level of government, they will be living with the political decisions that are being made today.

“Don’t let people mortgage your future,” Graves said. “Participate in the process now.”

The Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler has made it easier for voters to learn what they’re voting for and where they need to vote. Voters can download the “GeauxVote” application on their mobile device, provide their information, and be presented with their polling location and a sample ballot within minutes.

“We feel like the app that we’ve provided and we’ve been improving on over the years is an easy way for you to get informed,” Rogers said.

The forum’s conversation shifted to the summer of 2016 in Baton Rouge, and Faircloth led with a question to Graves about what students can do to return to the norm and what’s being done at the federal level to prevent similar actions in the future.

Graves clarified that the norm and where Baton Rouge stood socially prior to the shooting of Alton Sterling was not an okay place to be.

“When I watched that video of Alton Sterling, it was disgusting and gut-wrenching,” Graves said. “One of the first things we began discussing was improving technology, and what additional tools could we provide law enforcement that are non-lethal technologies. That way we’d be talking about Alton Sterling’s defense today, as opposed to his death.”

Graves was glad to see the community rebound from the shootings, and ultimately come together during the flooding of Baton Rouge to provide refuge for one another.

“I really thought that the way this community came together and lifted one another up was awesome,” Graves said. “When disaster strikes, there are no strangers.”

Graves and Rogers answered questions from the audience at the conclusion of the forum. Audience members applauded and thanked both Graves and Rogers at the conclusion of the event, and the first day of the presidential symposium ended.

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