By: Savannah Whitley
As everyone who partook in the mock election knows, the real MVP of the event is Dr. Rich Hardy. Dr. Hardy is the Director of the Centennial Honors College here at WIU, but he is also the man who made the whole election happen. Dr. Hardy has spent countless days and nights, usually powered on only a few hours of sleep, making this mock election happen. He is the man responsible for everything that goes into the election from delegating tasks to departments to planning almost a year in advanced to speaking to classes. Dr. Hardy is also the man who started WIU’s mock election some years ago. Despite all his responsibility and his huge to-do list, Dr. Hardy still manages to put students first. Even during his busiest time of the year, Dr. Hardy still fit time to sit and talk to this reporter about this successful event.
Q: In your own words, what is the mock election?
A: The mock election is an exercise to teach students, faculty, and citizens about our seemingly complicated presidential selection process that takes place every four years. A lot of people become familiar with the candidates, a lot of times they only know them because of snippets on TV or commercials, but they don’t pay much attention to their stance or anything, but most importantly people don’t really understand how we select a president. So, this mock election allows students to play a role and to be exposed to the various candidates and the many, many issues that develop in a campaign so they can, I hope, make an informed decision.
I think the other goal is to make sure they understand this is a part of the first amendment: freedom of expression. Freedom of expression means they have a right to think, they have a right to take stances on certain issues, and they have right to speak out without the fear of intimidation. I just ask them to be respectful, it would be ideal if students could speak their opinion without fear and intimidation, but also to be every respectful of other’s opinions, because that is what happens in a democracy. If we don’t have that free flow of expression then we can’t make reasonable choices.
Q: This event really is a wonderful thing. Everyone I talked to said this is what makes them want to vote, but before participating, they didn’t really think they were going to [vote.] Why do you think that a lot of people, mainly the younger generation, feel that voting is more of a choir than a privilege?
A: It really is a wonderful think we take for granted. What I find concerning is that every American has two choices: 1. To vote or not to vote? 2. Who do you vote for? Unfortunately so many of us do not exercise that first choice of voting in the first place and today it has become so easy to vote, because wherever you are it doesn’t take super long to fill out a form, you can do it someplace on election day even.
Even though it is so easy, on a presidential election we are lucky to get a 55% turn out. That means out of those who are legal to vote; only about 55% show up and that’s on a high end. Some years we are lucky to get 50%; that’s a presidential election. On off year when members of congress and governors are votes, no matter what the numbers were for a certain location, it is always about 14 points below that. So, if you got 50% voter turnout with a presidential election, then you are lucky to get a 36% voter turnout. That doesn’t include local and school board election where sometimes you’re lucky to get 5% voter turnout.
Q: What would you say to the people that don’t feel like their vote matters?
A: Often time’s one vote can make a difference. [For example] Steve Weldain, out alderman here in Macomb, won by one vote and that make the difference by him being in city council or not. So, one vote does make a difference and that could be your vote or my vote that can make a difference. So, voting is a choice. A lot of people expect the reason people don’t vote is people don’t think it is important. Well, as I said, it is extremely important. For example, a lot of people have given their lives and fought for freedoms to vote, like the civil rights movement or the women’s rights movement, so we kind of taken it for granted. So, I would like to see students more into that, because an 18 year old’s vote counts just as much as a senior’s vote or a rich person’s vote.
Q: How exactly did this great event start?
A: It all started when I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa and I was working on my doctorate in political science. I was a teaching student for a huge class with about 400 students in the class and the professor, Donald Johnson, was very into elections and parties. The text book was like reading a board game, if you read the instructions it’s extremely dry and doesn’t sound like any fun. But if you play the game all of a sudden you understand it. So, he required students to do this small simulation and one of the senior assistant students I was working with was John Hemingway, the same John Hemingway that is a part of the mock election today. So, I admired the way John got up front and took over. So, the next year it was my turn so I changed it a little bit.
Then, after I got my doctorate I went to the University of Missouri and taught big lecture halls where sometimes I’d even have 1000 students at a time and I wanted them to get involved. So, I wrote for a small grant to get some supplies to do my take on the mock election. It was extremely successful and I noticed the interest for political science classes started going up greatly and they started talking more in their discussion labs, because they had something to talk about, something in common. They did it in an evening, something very much like this.
Eventually I retired from the university, but I decided I wasn’t ready to retire. So, WIU offered me a position here as the chair of the department of political science. On my way over here to my interview I was trying to think of something to of something to tell them that would make me stand out and be different. While I was driving though Carthridge, Illinois it hit me: “The road to the white house starts at Western Illinois University.” Why couldn’t we have the largest mock presidential election and why do we have to wait for Iowa? I’ve never seen other universities do it, they might let students do something small like collect votes, but I don’t think students really learn anything from that. So, once I got some money, I went to John Hemingway who was working here and I told him I had an idea and here we are.
Q: What were some obstacles that you encountered?
A: We had a lot of people saying it can’t do it, you won’t be able to get students, and they won’t understand it. For example, when I said I wanted to put up 1000 balloons in Western Hall, they told me I couldn’t do it, because it had never been done before. Well, that’s not an excuse for me. Well, at my age I just made up my mind that I was going to do it. People would either join with me or get out of my way. Another thing I discovered people saying is ‘yeah, but…’ and when you have a lot of ‘yeah, but…’s in your life, get them out of your life. I had a vision, I set goals, and I took action. In a lot of ways I think that’s a part of being a leader and in some way I want to be a leader. You are also going to fail. My goodness, I have stubbed my toe so many times, but that’s never stopped me. You have to figure out what work and you go with it. So, every year the mock election has got a little bit bigger, a little bit better and I think the quality this year is very good.
Q: It’s definitely been a good year this year. Usually with something like this, students are often only there for extra credit. With this event, however, all the students are there and present. Everyone wants to participate. Why do you think this is?
I think the active participation among the students is because of the quality of the student leaders and there is competition. Those leaders took things seriously and really wanted to win, so they would engage other students. The whole success of the event depends on the students involved, however. Not the leaders, but the students in the audience. The students sitting there. Just like in a real election, the students who are voting decide how successful the mock election is.
It’s really exciting for me to see how it turns out, because I really don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to end and I don’t take a side, because it’s best if I don’t know. If a student comes in for advice, I’ll give them advice, but I’m not picking a side on this. They are the ones who have to determine everything. The minute I get involved in this or give my opinion, I tainted the entire process. So, I ask faculty to just let them play it. We set up the rules and let them play within those rules.
Q: I’m sure it takes a lot of work. What kind of work goes into the event?
A: It certainly does! When it’s all over, we are all exhausted. It takes a lot of work to do this, but I am very fortunate to have a staff here to help me do all this. This takes more than months of preparation. I even have to reserve Western Hall a couple years in advance. So, I had to have it on a Monday night, so I can set up on a Sunday. We enlist every department to come in and help us with this. LEGA students walk around and monitor the event with safely plans, we have the journalism and broadcasting department covering the event, the music department is performing, art students are helping us with the graphics, we have anthropology students, history students, political science students. Every single department is involved in some way. I even have to involve the union, because the union workers have to be the ones who put up the signs and move the chairs. So, it’s truly a campus wide event. But the more work we put into it, the easier it looks.
Q: The student volunteers seem to also put in a lot of work. Do you give them any advice?
A: I tell all the campaign managers before we ever start that only one of them is going to win. I don’t know which one, but I know it’s only going to be one. It’s really hard. For example, the Hillary Clinton team was so dedicated and had such a great team, but here at WIU people are worried about continuing their education and where their next dollar is going to come from, so Bernie is out there talking about things that resonate with the students and so he has become a huge phenomenon. Personally, I also think most of Sander’s success is due to social media that we aren’t picking up on. The older generation takes us a bit longer to pick up on social media and new media outlets. But whoever picks up on that technology, like Sanders is now, is going to end up with a lot of foot soldiers.
As I have said many times, there is no substitute for experience, unless you are 19-year-old. Because 19-year-olds don’t have the hang ups we have. Because when they campaign, they aren’t worried about what other’s may think or other’s disagreeing. They don’t worry about putting signs in their windows or bumper stickers on their car, they aren’t afraid to do those things. So, if you can get them out working for you, you have an army. So, they become the heart and soul of the thing. You have the young people who put in long hours, while older people like me generally goes to bed early. That’s just nature’s way. A young person is usually night owl, just like I was. When I was young I would work tirelessly on campaigns and I would stay up late and work hard. I got really into it. That’s what it takes. It takes commitment.
Young people are better than paid staffers sometimes. The younger generation has a lot at stake, big debt coming up, so the younger generation has to get into this. The leaders will emerge. There will still be some people sitting on the sidelines, but leaders will emerge. That’s the way it is.
Q: It sounds like you are really hopeful for the upcoming generations. What do you think about the people who criticize the younger generation?
As I look back, the adults would criticize my generation too. I think real leaders emerge out of each generation and as people grow older, they learn what it takes to make ends meet and they learn how to take on responsibility. Then it becomes if you don’t do something about it, no one is going to do it for you. The old saying ‘knowledge is power’ is absolutely true. You need to know what your rights are and how to exercise those rights. When you don’t know how to speak out, someone is going to do it for you. So I would rather be the person who at least has the power and knowledge to do something and I think the mock election gives people that power. I think it allows educates the powerful younger generation and gives them the tools to make a difference.
Q: How do you think the younger generation will make a difference?
I was actually telling a group of students they can take over a political party if they wanted to. All they had to do is show up to a local party caucus. Then select people to go to the district convention. At the district convention they pick people to go to the state convention. At the state convention, they pick people to go to the national convention. A lot of times people don’t show up to the local caucus, but you just have to register to vote. So, if you went out to get registered to vote and you went out and organized every college student from your party and just show up to the caucus, you can elect your people, then the college students have control over the district. So, then, you elect that person to the district convention, then the state, and so forth. Usually it’s an old person who has been there a long time who collected favor and thinks they’re going to get it. Well, one time, we brought in a lot of college students and we had a college student make it all the way to the nation convention. All you have to do is start from somewhere and then fight to get in there. T