Clad in red and blue colored top hats, student workers and volunteers congregated in David Saul Smith Union and Thorne Hall on Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day. Bowdoin Votes, a non-partisan voting advocacy initiative on campus, tabled at both sites to spread awareness and assist students with voter registration.
“We had all the resources that people needed to register to vote, request absentee ballots, find out if they were registered, [and] decide where to register,” said Will Donaldson ’20, one of Bowdoin Votes’ democracy ambassadors. “I was pleasantly surprised by how many people [went] out of their way to sign up.”
Over the past few years, voter registration has been low among Bowdoin students: turnout was as low as 36 and 53 percent in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, respectively. Associate Director of Service and Leadership of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good Andrew Lardie founded Bowdoin Votes in 2016 with the goal of promoting a culture of civic engagement on campus and helping students vote in elections.
After Tuesday’s events, organizers felt optimistic about future student engagement in voting at Bowdoin. According to the group, 129 Maine voter registration forms were filled out and 84 absentee ballots for out-of-state registrations were requested.
“What we saw was a great deal of interest. [The number of] students who we assisted yesterday in registering or requesting absentee ballots [was almost as much] as [the total registrations] we had last year in the midterms,” said Lardie. “The appetite is there among students to participate.”
Elections this year are mostly municipal and tend to have lower turnout. Lardie noted that Bowdoin Votes’ Tuesday event aimed to address voters’ misconceptions about this year’s cycle.
“Most people think of odd years as being not election years, which is not correct,” said Lardie. “Municipal and local elections [have] high-stake[s]. Control of education on the ground is done by your city or town; control of your police is done by your city or town.”
Aoguzi Muhameiti ’23, one of Bowdoin Votes’ student volunteers, described how procedural complexity in states’ voting processes can hinder voter registration.
“It is very difficult to register in some states. You have to find out who your clerk is, you have to find out their address, you have to contact them to get a form,” said Muhameiti. “It’s a very complicated process.”
For those who choose to register in their home state, Bowdoin Votes helped students fill out absentee ballots.
“We pay for postage, we provide envelopes, [and] we make sure that they fill out the forms correctly before they get submitted,” said Lardie.
Lardie also expressed concerns over students’ apathetic attitudes toward voting. He attributes Bowdoin’s low turnout rates primarily to this apathy.
“A part of our educational outreach is to promote the idea that [voting] is manageable. It might be stressful to be confronted with all these different choices to make, but you can get prepared, and it won’t take up a ton of your time,” said Lardie.
This year, the group also acted in association with NESCAC Votes, an initiative among NESCAC colleges that routinely holds conventions for helping students plan events for the year ahead.
Editor’s Note: Will Donaldson is a columnist for the Orient. NESCAC Votes is an initiative launched this year by Bowdoin, Middlebury, and the ALL IN Challenge. The first convention will be in October.