As the election begins, the college gets-out-the-vote

Tris+Arthur+dropping+off+her+absentee+ballot+application+in+the+mailbox+outside+of+the+Colonial+Theater.

Photo: Jakob Menendez

Tris Arthur dropping off her absentee ballot application in the mailbox outside of the Colonial Theater.

By Camilo Fonseca, Assistant News Editor

In the lead up to Election Day, Emerson’s Office of Student Engagement and Leadership established an outreach campaign this semester to encourage students to vote.

Much of the “get-out-the-vote” campaign focused on creating voting plans, promoting electoral engagement, and ensuring students do not run into unnecessary difficulties when casting their ballots.

“[Our role is] whatever we can do to assist, while not doing the work for you,” SEAL Director Jason Meier said. “It’s not our job to register you to vote. It’s not our job to give you the form and stamp. It’s part of the civic engagement process that you do this work, but it’s our job to be here to help move you along.”

For most out-of-state students, the period to submit mail-in ballots has passed. In-person voting is now students’ only remaining option. However, the college has not yet abandoned attempts to engage with students.

Meier helped implement the Turbovote pop-up feature on Emconnect—added on Sep. 22, National Voter Registration Day—that allowed students to check their registration status. Meier said the college’s role is to work with students to “demystify” the electoral process.

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SEAL also connected with the Department of Communication Studies to carry out around a dozen events focused around civic engagement, including debate watch parties and “pizza and politics” student discussion sessions over Zoom. The two offices also organized a three-part series of hour-long podcasts—Campus on the Common—that cultivated a space for political conversation. And despite Meier’s prior comments, the Office of Campus Life has indeed been providing stamps for prospective mail-in voters, according to an Oct. 21 email from Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe.

Voter turnout among Emerson students has been dismal historically. During the 2014 midterm elections, for example, Meier’s office discovered that only 11 percent of students voted.

“It’s really hard for us to say, ‘Hey let’s be politically active, let’s be engaged in the civic process,’ and then we don’t actually do it,” Meier said. “This is an opportunity for us to use our voice on a national and a local level. Taking the time to learn about what’s on the ballot, who’s running for what—democracy depends on it right now.”

These past few weeks, several students struggled to decide the best way they should vote: via mail or in-person. 

“Students have been asking, ‘Where is my vote going to be most secure?’” Meier said. “A lot of students are very protective of their vote and they want to make sure that their voice is heard.”

Lara Glennon, a first-year from Rockland, Massachusetts, is planning on returning to her hometown to vote on Election Day. She said that, by voting in-person, she feels there is less risk of her ballot being lost.

“I can get home pretty easily, vote with my family, and come back,” she said. “It feels pretty secure.”

Alex Naughton, also a first-year and a Boston area local, registered to vote by mail out of convenience. Even as a Massachusetts voter, with a clearer path to in-person voting than many out-of-state students, he said that he did not regret his decision.

“[Voting by mail] doesn’t really change how my voting process works,” Alex said. “It didn’t seem difficult at all to me. It seemed pretty straightforward.”

Kerri Stephenson, a first-year student from Georgia, said her ballot took nearly two months to arrive after she requested it in September. Now, she faces a closing window for her ballot to reach her county elections office before the state’s Nov. 3 deadline.

In a report on Oct. 23, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated “thousands of ballots” in the state risk missing that deadline, as a result of the state’s complicated electoral procedures. These procedures have been criticized as contributing to voter suppression, particularly against minority groups. 

An African-American voter, Stephenson said she was increasingly concerned her mail-in ballot hurdles were a result of voter suppression—possibly racially-motivated.

“We’re supposed to be at a point where this shouldn’t be happening,” she said. “Clearly and evidently, we are not.” 

“We are still pushing out on social media about state deadlines,” Meier said. “Some states still allow for walk-up voter registration. Some states allow for online voter registration and still requesting your mail-in ballot. We’re continuing to show that on social media.”

Even though she has already finalized her voting plans, Glennon said she appreciated the college’s efforts to get-out-the-vote.

“As many opportunities as we can give people to register, the better,” she said. “It’s always good to see more initiatives for voting.”