On-campus groups set out to engage young voters

The upcoming presidential election has spurred student political involvement and discussion on campus. For many students, this year marks the first time they will vote.

Swatties for Hillary is an on-campus group that was founded by Nate Urban ’18 last semester and currently has Emily Uhlmann ’19 as its president.  The group is dedicated to volunteering for the Hillary campaign and has actively set out to register voters. The group has had student volunteers stationed at Sharples during lunch and dinner for the last couple of weeks, according to Urban.

Urban became determined to increase student involvement in the presidential election after the college’s low voter turnout in the 2012 election. 76.4 percent of students at Swarthmore in 2012 were registered to vote, and only 46.7 percent of those students voted.

Izzy McClean ’20 was one of the students who registered to vote at Sharples.

“I wasn’t gonna vote before […] but Pennsylvania’s a swing state. I don’t get why you wouldn’t care. It is going to affect you,” said McClean.

“The involvement this early is awesome,” noted Urban. “We had a meeting [Monday] night at like, 10 p.m., and probably 40 or some odd people were there. At the activities fair, 40 percent of the freshman class signed up.”

Swatties for Hillary is campaigning up until the election through weekly phone banks, daily voter registrations, and canvassing door to door. The group will also host a study break in Mephistos lounge on Oct. 2nd.

Patrick Houston ’17 found a different way to get involved in the election. On Sept. 13th, he introduced President Obama at a Hillary for America campaign rally in Philadelphia.

Urban connected Houston to the opportunity after he was contacted by the Clinton campaign, which was looking for a student with a strong voice, who had also been impacted by health care reform.

“I felt like I had the opportunity to pay some tribute to [Obama],” said Houston.

More than 200 Swarthmore students attended the event after Urban spoke to the Lang Center and arranged for them to pay for SEPTA tickets into the city.

Executive Director of the Lang Center Benjamin Berger explained that the Center is working to increase student involvement in the election, including paying for transportation to a host of political events.

“I’ve seen high levels of student interest much higher than during the 2012 election but perhaps not quite so high as 2008’s peak,” he said.

Over 300 students gathered at LPAC on Monday to watch the presidential debate, an event for which the Lang Center provided pizza and drinks.

“Students’ excitement and engagement were through the roof pretty impressive for a Monday night,” noted Berger. He went on to discuss the Lang Center’s support of student political initiatives.

“We sponsor many student groups involved with nonpartisan voter registration efforts, including the Swarthmore Political Engagement Project (SPEP), co-founded last year by Jacob Dumree ’19 and Simran Singh ’19. I worry about our country’s future, but our students’ deep engagement and ethical concern gives me hope.”

Department Chair of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88 echoed the sentiment. “My general impressions, anecdotal as they are, [is] that students are very much as involved, committed, and passionate [as] I was certainly here as a student, equally as passionate, if not a tad bit more so, than my Kennedy School and my Middlebury students.”

Reeves currently teaches American Politics, a class that is usually capped at 25 students but has 31 students enrolled this semester.

“It’s election time, so we’re not surprised by higher enrollments,” he said. “Students are actively working for both campaigns. Certainly, they are paying attention and are nervously anticipating Nov. 8th.”

For some international students on campus, Nov. 8th will not be a special day.

“Because I’m from Britain [and] Donald Trump has all these ties to Britain, it kind of does affect me,” said Marianne Lotter-Jones ’19. “But I know there’s nothing I can do about it. So I just let it be.”

Some Swatties, like Benedict Rogando ’20, have found that the election is not one of their focuses.

“I don’t even care about that stuff, man. I have enough to worry about. I have a couple of midterms.”

In an election where youth votes are critical and excitement is low, campus organizational groups have the opportunity to make a sizeable impact.

 

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