Class projects aim to explore candidate accountability, increase voter registration

by Allison UllmannStaff Writer

Kedron Bardwell, assistant professor of political science, is involving three of his courses in civic learning projects intended to help both Simpson students and the local community become more interested and engaged in politics.

“What I was trying to find was a way to adapt the idea of service learning in a broader way to civic engagement,” Bardwell said. “I came up with the idea by looking at some research of service learning with the idea of civic learning.”

Using several projects, Bardwell hopes to use civic learning with a political science focus.

“It’s civic learning in terms of helping students, other citizens and the community get more informed about and engaged in political issues,” Bardwell said. “I’m trying to take the same idea, the idea of serving your community in some way but attaching it more to civic engagement, awareness, and education. That’s where I came up with the idea to try to fit into these three courses- some project that would represent an element of civic engagement or civic learning.”

The first component is to get as many students as possible registered to vote. Bardwell’s American Government class is attempting to register the entire student population, both on campus and off, to vote. The students are hoping to build a database of registered and non-registered students.

“I think that the more people that we get involved will help make a bigger impact on the caucus and the election,” sophomore Jenny Feldman said. “I think that by having more college students that are registered, it will have an impact and have more colleges follow in our footsteps.”

Sophomore Kathryn Lisk believes that registering students to vote is an important step in political engagement.

“As a class, we learned how the U.S. as a whole doesn’t vote and only 55 percent of U.S. citizens actually vote,” Lisk said. “Part of the problem is that people never get registered. At least by getting Simpson campus registered, those students can get to the polls easier. By starting small at Simpson, it will help the country as whole.”

Bardwell’s Mass Media and Politics class is fact-checking presidential candidate’s statements to media to find out if they are true or not to educate students about what the candidates are really saying.

“In the Media Politics class, I’m basically stealing an idea that’s been done by media and by non-partisan public interest groups and the most famous one is called ‘,'” Bardwell said. “We’re stealing this idea of fact-checking political candidates’ statements and I decided to make that the big project of the course. We built a site where we can topically take on candidates and specific claims or statements they’ve made and then have the students do research in class and outside of class and write articles about whether what they said is accurate or not.”

Junior Katye Hennick believes by finding out the facts, students are given a better sense of candidate accountability.

“You get a lot of information from a lot of political candidates and a lot of finger-pointing,” Hennick said. “Not only will it help us, but [it will also help] the people that will read our blog pick apart which candidate is telling the truth and really find out the core of the facts rather than just take a candidate’s word for it.”

Bardwell’s American Public Policy class is involved with the third component of the civic learning project and is putting together a voter guide explaining each candidate’s stance on the major issues. The guide will focus on 10 different policy issues and will summarize the positions of all the candidates on those issues.

According to Bardwell, the guide will educate and help people make decisions on whom to support at the caucus.

“I think that it’s helpful because you get to learn all the candidates and where they stand on each issue,” sophomore Allison Johnson said. “It helps you place yourself with a particular candidate and helps you decide who you will vote for.”

Bardwell says that he hopes that this three-part project will help to educate and engage students in time for the caucuses.

“The problem with caucusing is that people, especially students, are a little bit wary of it,” Bardwell said. “They haven’t done it before and don’t know what to expect. If they aren’t quite sure which of the candidates they support they will probably say, ‘I’m not going to go. I don’t know who I’m supporting and I don’t want to look stupid’.”

Bardwell knows the projects can seem daunting, but has key steps to implementing the projects.

“You need to be able to register people so that they’re eligible to vote, you need to educate people so that they’re confident about how they’ll vote, and then you have to train people on how to engage and get them mobilized to show up,” Bardwell said.