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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Long Island’s Johnny Appleseed of voter registration

Stony Brook University junior Rodman Serrano, 22, of North Bay Shore has registered 300 new voters this year. He spoke Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, about casting his first vote for president alongside them. (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

It will be close, but come Monday night, Rodman Serrano’s plan is to bolt home after classes to watch the debate at Hofstra University between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Serrano will be joined by family and friends. And, he hopes, by the 300 or so new voters across Long Island he’s helped register since January.

Serrano, 22, of North Bay Shore could be considered a modern-day Johnny Appleseed.

Except that instead of trees, he works to sow newly registered voters wherever he goes.

This year, Serrano, an English major at Stony Brook, has registered voters who are passionate about their support of Trump. He’s registered voters who say they feel the same about Clinton.

On Friday, as Serrano scoured the campus for new registrants, he registered one student who had turned 18 only a week earlier, who said she supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

For his part, Serrano isn’t concerned about whom his newly registered crop of voters support, only that they register.

He can come across as a shy young man. But ask Serrano about his mission, and — boom — his eyes light up. His hands rise and fall excitedly, punctuating his words.

“You walk up to someone and sometimes they’ll start talking about who they like, and why they like them, and it’s like they let you into their world for a little bit,” he said.

“It’s interesting, it’s exciting and it’s been good for me,” Serrano said, noting that transforming strangers into registered voters has worked wonders in making him more outgoing.

On Friday, classes done, Serrano, the son of immigrants from El Salvador, set out at a brisk pace to snag new registrations. His goal is to hit 400 by Oct. 14, the last date new voters can register.

“Are you registered to vote?” he asked, over and over again, zigzagging between darn near everyone in his path. At one point, he reached out to skateboarders, and to people soaking in the sun on benches. And he moved fast enough to keep up with the waves of fast-moving students going to and from classes.

Serrano does not register voters on behalf of any political party or candidate. “It is just easier to register people to vote without mentioning any candidate,” he said.

As for personal preference, Serrano, who puts in time for a variety of voter-registration groups, including Make the Road New York, said he was learning toward voting for Clinton because “Trump’s immigration policies would break up families.”

In the library, at the student activity center or on pathways — it didn’t take long for Serrano to register six new voters.

Serrano says he has persuaded people in their 40s and 50s, and a few in their 60s, to register. “They’re always interesting to talk to,” he said.

He’s also had success with those just past the legal federal voting age of 18 — along with voters in their early 20s, whose birth dates came too late to qualify to vote for president four years ago.

Serrano was 18 then. And he did not vote. “I regret that,” he said. “I had an opportunity to have a say and I did not make use of it.”

Perhaps that’s why he carts a clipboard full of voter registration forms, already at the ready, in his backpack.

And that’s not likely to change, after Monday’s debate or November’s election.

Serrano, a junior, hopes someday to teach middle or high school students in the Brentwood school district. “I can help motivate my future students to go out and vote,” Serrano said.

Like Johnny Appleseed?

“I think that’s a good thing,” Serrano said with a wide smile.

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