Sehba Faheem, a senior in biological systems engineering, is the 2021 recipient of the Making Democracy Work Award, presented by the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County.
Faheem first became involved in campus civic engagement her sophomore year. She noticed several institutional and information barriers she wanted to address.
“There was no convenient place on campus to get a voter registration form,” Faheem said. “For out-of-state students who must get registered through a physical form, this is a significant hurdle.”
Faheem said she knew students who had to drive all the way to the auditor’s office in order to get registered, which is approximately 40 minutes, round-trip.
“Students do not have to go to Nevada to get registered, but issues like this arise from a lack of accessible information,” she said.
Faheem made information about registering the centerfold of her civic engagement project, which she started in February 2020.
“[My project] included community adviser guidebooks, posters, information stations and a website,” she said. “These information stations had info flyers, voter registration forms and absentee ballot request forms.”
These stations were placed in every residence hall on campus, and links to the website were put on flyers and distributed to several nearby apartment buildings. Faheem even wrote information about her project in chalk around campus.
Faheem said she quickly realized the issue among students isn’t that they don’t want to vote. The problem is they don’t have the information or materials to register successfully.
“I believe that everyone should have a fair shot [at voting],” she said. “Repeatedly, I would hear from students, ‘I can’t vote, I’m not registered.’ These obstacles do not impact everyone equally.”
The Making Democracy Work Award honors one Story County resident who is committed to encouraging citizens to be involved in the democratic process and being passionate about preserving democracy.
Faheem will be officially recognized by the League of Women Voters during the annual meeting in June.
When asked what college students should know about taking part in democratic processes, Faheem said every voice is important.
“When students don’t vote, our knowledge and perspective are not passed up to those crafting laws upon us,” she said. “Through our voices and votes, I believe that we can create a government that consistently cares for people.”