Only 24.8 percent of registered Swarthmore students voted in the 2014 midterm elections, a percentage lower than the national average for college students. Swarthmore staff and students on the Get Out the Vote, or GOTV, committee, which President Smith organized this February, are working to increase voter turnout in the upcoming November 6 election.
College students are typically a very low turnout group in elections. Tuft University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education found that 29.1 percent of registered college students voted in 2014. This national average was slightly higher than the percentage of Swarthmore students who voted.
Emily Weisgrau, head of the GOTV committee and Director of Advancement Communications attributes part of the low turnout at Swarthmore to confusion about how to register and the fact that the Swarthmore campus is divided into two precincts.
“Right now, the campus is served by two precincts in the Borough of Swarthmore. Because the law states that you must use your residence hall location to determine where you vote, students living in certain dorms going to the northern precinct (at SRS) [Swarthmore-Rutledge School] while others go to the western precinct (at CADES),” Weisgrau said.
The GOTV committee is taking several steps to provide students with more information on candidates and communicate effectively with the student body. They also helped students register from the start of school until October 9, which was the last day to register in Pennsylvania.
“We’ve dramatically increased communications about registration and voting this semester, expanding the frequency and means of communications,” Weisgrau said. “Jacob Demree ’19, a member of our committee, sets up a table in Shane Lounge every Wednesday at lunchtime to register students, help them get absentee ballots, and talk to them about the importance of voting … We’ve created the new URL, vote.swarthmore.edu, and updated the resources on that website to make it easier for students to find everything they might need.”
Kenny Mai ’21 has been volunteering to help students register to vote in partnership with Swarthmore Asian Organization and Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, a local non-profit that aims to protect the Philadelphia Chinatown. SAO is just one of the clubs that joined forces with the GOTV committee to help register students.
Mai was inspired by SAO’s mission and decided to help by volunteering to register students outside of Sharples Dining Hall.
“SAO believes very strongly in the importance of voting and political efficacy especially in this turbulent political climate and I believe in the same,” Mai said.
Mai also believes that part of the low turnout could be because students want to vote in their home state, but then forget to mail in their absentee ballot.
Kevin Dee ’22 is from California and wanted to vote in Pennsylvania. He found the student groups incredibly helpful and proactive in the registration process.
“I’m voting in Pennsylvania because it is a swing state and California is not. The student groups were really helpful in registering me, they even contacted me to fix an error on my registration,” Dee said.
Students who vote in Pennsylvania will be voting on the next governor, one senate state, a congressional race, as well as state congressional and Senate races. Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon is running against Republican Pearl Kim for the open 5th congressional district seat. Both the governor’s race and senate race are predicted to go to the Democratic incumbents, Tom Wolf and Bob Casey. The current mayor of Swarthmore Tim Kearney is running for state Senate against Republican incumbent Tom McGarrigle, while state representative Leanne Krueger Braneky, also a Democrat, is up for re-election.
The GOTV committee has several more initiatives and events that will happen over the next couple weeks in an effort to increase voter turnout.
“We’re rolling out a social media campaign after fall break to encourage students to become “voting buddies”—like a gym buddy—someone who will hold you accountable for going to the polls or mailing your ballot,” said Weisgrau.
Weisgrau encourages all students to vote and to feel like their votes matter. For Weisgrau, voting is a way to make her voice heard.
“For me, voting is both a way to honor the hard-fought battles that women and people of color went through to earn the right to vote and the most important and meaningful way to voice my opinion about what direction I want my town, state, and country to head in. By voting, I know my opinion is heard, even if I don’t get the outcome I want, and I believe it’s a privilege to have that opportunity,” Weisgrau said.
The GOTV committee encourages all registered students to vote and will be providing rides to polls on November 6th starting at 8 a.m.
Featured image courtesy of Emma Ricci-De Lucca ’21