Last weekend, administrators, faculty and students from eight out of the 11 NESCAC colleges convened at Middlebury College for the first NESCAC Votes Summit to jump start each campus’ election engagement plan.
From partnering with the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), Bowdoin Votes has been able to examine the areas on campus in which voter turnout could be stronger. The College increased its voting rate from 16.3 percent in 2014 to 40.4 percent in 2018.
Additionally, NESCAC Votes plans to hopefully bring the average registration rate for all 11 colleges to 90 percent this year.
Bowdoin was represented by Andrew Lardie, associate director for service and leadership, Penelope Mack ’22, McKeen Center fellow for election engagement, Justin Ko ’22, McKeen fellow for community engagement and Wilder Short ’22, chair of facilities and sustainability for Bowdoin Student Government (BSG).
“The main thing was just spending time as a team working through the different pieces of our plan,” Lardie said. “This summer we’ve been focused on a lot of programming to support student registration, education and turnout for this fall election, so we haven’t been able to spend time thinking that much about fall 2020. Just having the time to focus on that and hearing from the students and other staff members was really valuable.”
Starting in June, Lardie worked with Ashley Laux, program director of the Center for Community Engagement at Middlebury College, and Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge to plan last weekend’s summit. ALL IN’s mission is to help colleges of all sizes across the country effectively support their students in voting and election engagement.
Last March, the team also coordinated with President Clayton Rose and Middlebury President Laurie Patton, who jointly issued an invitation to the other nine NESCAC presidents to join ALL IN’s challenge.
At the conference, Lardie said the team was working on tactics for registration, education and turnout, specifically focusing on equal and full participation.
“One of the things that I’m really interested in measuring and succeeding at is what I call affective barriers to voting, a belief or a feeling or a reaction you have that makes you feel like voting is too inconvenient, too overwhelming or it doesn’t make a difference,” Lardie said.
He emphasized the efforts of Bowdoin Votes, the College’s main election engagement group, to convey to students why their vote matters and how easily it can be cast.
Short stressed this importance.
“We’re lucky to have rights to vote,” he said. “There is voter suppression here, but it is more … evident in other nations, and I think having discussions surrounding the trials and tribulations of voting in another country [can] be the fire needed for our student body to realize that it easily [takes] just 15-20 minutes [of your time] on Election Day.”
After going to the conference, Lardie, Mack, Ko and Short brought back both small- and large-scale ideas. Along with developing future plans for hosting a debate watch party and discussion, Bowdoin Votes plans to partner with Off-Campus Study (OCS), the Center for Multicultural Life and BSG to increase student election engagement.
Lardie noted that the College’s oldest students have the lowest turnout.
“It’s reasonable to attribute that rate to a large number of juniors losing track that they need to vote because they’re abroad,” he said. “We intend to work more closely with Off-Campus Study to figure out what the best tactic is for reaching those students.”
Based on his observations of the NSLVE data, Lardie added that Bowdoin Votes needs to do more work in reaching across racial differences on campus and plans to partner with the Center for Multicultural Life.
To reach more of campus in general, Bowdoin Votes looks to BSG whose members are on board. “We are more than ready to help facilitate discussions with administrators and provide support whether it’s with future elections or us publishing something or advertising for them or just general announcements via email,” said Short, who represented BSG at the conference. “We are more than open to working with anyone, especially with Bowdoin Votes, because it’s a big year coming up for elections.”
Despite their absence from the conference, Williams, Wesleyan and Amherst will still be involved with the newly formed NESCAC Votes. Although the NESCAC colleges plan to meet again next winter, the colleges will continue to keep in touch with each other in the meantime through conference calls and Google Drive.
“Pulling all these resources together will only make our lives a lot easier with registration and advertising in the future,” Short said. “I think, more than anything, just reaching out to all student organizations on campus to just really make sure their members are really active in discussing voting.”
Lardie stressed that it will take time to implement all their new ideas.
“There’s a lot of room for us to do better, but it’s going to take time for … these values to be infused across the culture and for it to be a part of what is on students’ minds, in the sense of seeing themselves as a voter as a piece of their identity,” Lardie said.
Bowdoin Votes will provide vans to polling places on Tuesday, which is election day for Brunswick Municipal races and a state referendum.
Correction: The college increased its voting rate to 40.4 percent in 2018. ETL Developer and Analyst Steve Papaccio is also part of Bowdoin’s advisory group for NESCAC Votes this year and helped plan last weekend’s summit.