The Herald’s coverage of Hobart class president elections in last month’s issue revealed that most students were apathetic when it came to voting. With the midterm elections coming up in less than a month, students have another, arguably more important, chance to let their voices be heard. But will they vote?
In short, the data is not promising. Young people have been the age group the least likely to vote in all recent elections. Their low turnout at the polls is especially pronounced in midterm election years, like this one.
Any student who checks his or her email regularly will recognize the following statistics, but they are worth repeating. According to Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) Jeremy Wattles, “In 2012, only 40 percent of 18-29 year-olds voted nationwide, but 55 percent of 30-44 year-olds, 65percent of 45-60 year-olds, and 70 percent of 60+ year-olds voted.” For midterm elections, the turnout for 18-29 year-olds is cut in half to around 20 percent.
At HWS, student voter turnout has recently been even lower. In his regular TurboVote emails, Wattles notes that in 2014, the last midterm election year, 58.3 percent of HWS students were registered to vote but only 5 percent ended up casting their ballots.
This is important because who votes in an election affects its outcome. When older adults vote at significantly higher rates than young adults do, it means the views of those older adults are disproportionately taken into account in campaigns and in the government.
For this reason, there have been many efforts across campus by students and faculty alike to encourage students to vote on Nov. 6.
HWS Votes, a student-run organization dedicated to increasing voter registration and political participation on campus, has been at the forefront of voter engagement efforts this semester.
Along with CCESL, HWS Votes partners with TurboVote to help students get registered to vote and take them through the voting process. TurboVote is a nonpartisan online service that guides students through registering to vote and requesting their absentee ballots.
As of Oct.15, 654 students had used TurboVote. This is a significant increase from the 244 students who used TurboVote for the last midterm election in 2014, and it broke HWS Votes’ goal of 600 users.
Bart Lahiff ’20, one of the Civic Leaders of Political Activism with CCESL, says that they “have the highest number of people registered to vote in terms of proportion of the population since working with TurboVote.”
According to Lahiff, the goal this year is to get students who register to vote to finish the process and vote on or before Election Day. “There’s a huge gulf between registered voters and people who actually vote,” says Lahiff.
The problem? “There are barriers to voter registration that are not necessarily clear to people. It’s a multi-staged process to get the absentee ballot, and people don’t recognize that it’s going to take a longer amount of time.”
Many students will register to vote and think they have completed the process, but in order to get their absentee ballots they must send a request form to their local board of elections. The absentee ballot must then be completed and mailed back.
“The way we’re trying to combat that is impressing upon people the deadlines they need to fill and trying to get people to have us pay for the postage,” Lahiff says.
Additionally, some students may feel as though they’ve done enough just by registering to vote. Lahiff notes that in some circles, “there is this weird disconnect where you can get all of the social value of voting with the TurboVote registration but you don’t actually have to do the work.”
This is where HWS Votes’ voter education work comes in. So far this semester, the organization has worked with RAs to boost voter engagement and is planning to hold a party on Election Day to watch the results come in.
They have also organized a voter registration mail drive. Students who still need to register to vote or request their absentee ballots can go to the post office in Scandling to send their materials with prepaid postage.
Supporting HWS Votes’ work, Interim President Patrick A. McGuire has also contributed to the effort to motivate student voters. In an email sent to all students on October 5, President McGuire encouraged students to use TurboVote and assured them that their votes count.
“There are many ways to participate in a healthy democracy; one way is voting,” wrote McGuire. “In case you’re unsure whether your vote counts, Jeremy and Katie in CCESL have shared with me that in 2015 the mayoral race in Geneva was decided by a mere 12 ballots.”
McGuire’s email also stressed the importance of the upcoming elections for any students who are wondering why they should vote.
A third of the Senate is up for re-election, as well as the entire House. This means that control of Congress is up for grabs, with the potential for the Senate, the House, or both to be flipped.
Also on the ballot this November are many state and local elections, which have just as much importance in students’ lives as the national elections.
Any students who want to learn more about what will be on their ballot can go to online resources such as Vote411.org or Ballotpedia.org. For those who would like to stay politically informed beyond the elections, HWS offers a free online subscription to the New York Times. Copies of the newspaper and others can also be picked up around campus.
It is too late to register to vote in many states, but students from certain states have a few days to register and request their absentee ballots. These states include California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Students from New York who still need to request an absentee ballot should mail the request by October 22.
Any students who want to get involved with HWS Votes can contact Lahiff or his partner, Cassidy DiPaola ‘18. The Herald encourages all students who are able to vote to do so on (or before) November 6.