A ripple of cheers erupted from Morrell Lounge in David Saul Smith Union as U.S. House and Governor seats turned blue one by one on Tuesday night, leading to the Democrats taking back control of the House of Representatives. CNN was projected onto a large screen at the front of the room, and refreshments were provided by the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good. The watch party was the culmination of a day of voting and, for some campus organizers, weeks or months of campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The McKeen Center gathering was not the only watch party on campus; students of all class years funneled into common spaces to organize trips to the polls and watch as midterm election results poured in.
Baxter House held an event from 4 to 8 p.m. that provided affiliates with rides to the polls and celebrated the elections.
Brooke Vahos ’21, a Baxter resident who played a large role in organizing the event, had spent much of the semester campaigning with Janet Mills, who was elected governor on Tuesday night, and canvassing as part of Maine Student Action to encourage people to vote yes on Question One, which would have increased taxes on the highest income earners in order to subsidize home care for elderly Mainers. That measure was defeated, with nearly 63 percent of Mainers voting against it.
“In our current political context, all the decisions that are being made by our national politicians, as well as our local politicians, are affecting our everyday life,” said Vahos. “I think that people don’t really face that imminence; they feel like it’s in the distant future and it doesn’t really matter and politics is a game for a different generation.”
Many on campus commented on an uptick in political engagement from students compared to during the 2016 presidential election, in which only 52.6 percent of eligible Bowdoin students voted. This change is particularly noteworthy given that midterm elections have historically had significantly lower voter turnout than presidential years.
Out-of-state Bowdoin students who are eligible voters face a decision—to register in their home state or to register in Maine. Vahos voted in Maine, noting that state and local policies can profoundly affect Bowdoin students.
“[Maine] is where you’re living and where these policies are affecting you for four years,” said Vahos. “And a lot of people are feeling very estranged from that or feeling like they don’t deserve the right to affect people who live in Maine, but I think … we have just as much of a right to vote here and have a say in the politics as other people do.”
Some students preferred to vote absentee instead, citing a greater awareness of political issues affecting their home communities.
“I voted absentee to Michigan,” said Cyd Martin ’21. “Michigan will just always be home, and I like to think of the welfare of my home state where I grew up.”
After students spent the last several weeks sending in absentee ballots, voting early and driving to the polls on election day, they gathered to watch the results come in together.
“Watching the races is both about the partisan horserace and also about the political direction of our country, so it’s important to [watch] in community spaces, irrespective of political views,” said Emily Ruby ’19, McKeen Center election engagement fellow.
Nationally, the election turned out groundbreaking advancements. Kansas, for example, elected America’s first female, Native American, lesbian representative, Sharice Davis, who beat incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder. Colorado elected the first openly gay governor in United States history, Jared Polis.
In Maine, Mills will become the state’s first female governor. Incumbents Chellie Pingree and Angus King won re-election, while in Maine’s Second Congressional District—which does not include Brunswick—votes are still being tallied under the new ranked-choice system.
Regardless of where students voted or whom they chose to elect, one sentiment was echoed over and over.
“I think that Bowdoin Votes did an absolutely amazing job all over campus,” said Will Bucci ’19. “There were a lot of people walking around with the ‘I voted’ stickers, so it seems like there is a pretty good percentage of students who actually voted on campus.”
With the support of the McKeen Center (which helped drive students to the polls), campus clubs and Bowdoin Votes, many eligible students felt they had no excuse not to vote.
“We’re young, and politics are going to be affecting us for the rest of our lives,” Ruby said. “Voting now and starting to get engaged at this early age, that will stay with us, and we will continue to be engaged throughout our lives.”