News / Student Life

Dozens of CUNY Students Called NYPIRG Voter Helpline

In a normal election year, New York Public Interest Research Group gets help from many students to answer New York voters’ calls. This year, students were the voters with questions, and NYPIRG’s “Student Voter Helpline” was there to answer them. 

Of the 110 phone calls received, about half were from CUNY students. The others came from Pratt students, SUNY students, and non-student voters. 

In her three-hour shift, NYPIRG Program Coordinator Olga Filakouris received about 15 calls while Project Coordinator Ayesha Schmitt took four. The phones were “always ringing” in 2016, with callers from the general New Yorkers population. This year’s student helpline received about one call per minute.

Early voting led to reduced calls because voters had much more time to cast their ballot and get their questions answered compared to last year where voters had to rush to vote only on election day. Students who called from upstate campuses seemed to have many more questions than students who called from the city.

Many upstate students confused affidavit ballots with absentee ballots and wondered if they could vote near their campus if they registered in a different county back home. Staffers say those students were pleased to find out that they could vote as long as they lived on campus for 30 days and were registered voters. 

A team of about 30 staffers were on rotating shifts to answer calls on election day. They sat in a Zoom room with lawyer and election specialist Neal Rosenstein. Organizers said they tried to recreate the call center environment by being all together in a zoom room, though staffers were on mute as they answered calls so casual conversation didn’t occur as it would have in person. In a normal election year, The Athenian would be able to witness calls first-hand, but staffers working from home and being muted during calls prevented that possibility. 

Not every call concluded in a happy voter, Olga said she felt terrible telling a student that they couldn’t vote because they didn’t register in time. “It’s sad when someone is so excited and ready to go and there’s this barrier that doesn’t exist in other places.” NYPIRG pushes for same-day registration in the state. 

“The biggest barriers students face is a lack of knowledge and lack of a space to just ask questions anonymously,” Filakouris added. 

 

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