This Tuesday, as Americans gathered at home to watch the presidential debate, Bowdoin students tuned in to Bowdoin Votes’ Debate Watch Party, the group’s effort to provide a nonpartisan environment for engagement with the presidential race.
Students were able to individually stream the debate using a link provided by Bowdoin Votes, chat with each other and ask questions through Bowdoin Votes’ Zoom link.
Throughout the event, Bowdoin Votes tried to stay true to their goal of promoting civic engagement rather than supporting a specific candidate.
“People can come see it and not be pressured to feel one way or another,” said Wilder Short ’22, an election engagement fellow for Bowdoin Votes, in a video interview with the Orient.
This purpose of the watch party is echoed by Aoguzi Muhameiti ’23, another engagement fellow for Bowdoin Votes, who emphasized the role debates play in shaping voters’ preferences.
“It boils down to the fundamental purpose of Bowdoin Votes, which is to maximize voter engagement and that involves watching the debate,” he said to the Orient in a video call interview. “Presidential debates are a great educational experience, and it’s a great moment to see two candidates in a way that you only get to see three times every four years.”
Students approached the debate with anticipation and curiosity about how the candidates would interact with each other. However, as it wore on, students expressed sympathy for the moderator in the chat and collective hope for more coherent debates in the future. The group spoke briefly after the debate ended, primarily about the importance of voting.
Aside from organizing the Debate Watch Party, Bowdoin Votes is working hard to encourage civic engagement, with the goal of attaining 100 percent voter registration among eligible students at Bowdoin.
The group plans to reach this goal by organizing students into small groups called “voting squads” of between five and 15 students. Each group is run by a “voting captain” who, with the help of organizers and the election engagement fellows, checks in regularly with each member of their team to answer questions and remind them of important deadlines.
Organizer Rory Devlin ’23 cited concerns about youth voter turnout as part of his motivation for trying to provide every Bowdoin student with the opportunity to vote.
“Youth voter turnout has always been a concern of mine,” said Devlin in a video interview with the Orient. “The 18-35 voting bracket turnout is usually much lower than other brackets, which means that youth voices aren’t being heard as much. I think there’s a lot of pessimism about the government amongst young people and the political process, so we tend to just avoid it.”
Typically, Bowdoin Votes sets up tables in front of the David Saul Smith Union and Moulton Union to provide easy access to registration and advice on the voting process to students. This year, just as with the virtual watch party, things look a little different.
“Now that it’s virtual, it’s a little harder because people have to actively seek you out,” Muhameiti said. “People have to put more effort in on their side. We can make it as easy as possible virtually, but it doesn’t make a difference if people don’t want to show up, because a lot of it has to do with convenience.”
In addition to breaking the campus into “voting squads,” Bowdoin Votes has also placed a voter registration packet in every student’s mailbox in order to get as many students as possible involved.
“With COVID happening, I think a lot of people can be forgetting or putting to the wayside [the] voting period,” Short said. “[We remind] people that it is a quick and easy process and that it does make a world of difference. I would be proud to see our generation of youth be one that’s showing up to the polls virtually or by mail a lot more than any other age bracket.”
One of Bowdoin Votes’ main efforts is to help students vote with confidence and accuracy. Although voting may appear to be an obscure and complex process, relaying a few simple tips will make it more likely that Bowdoin students’ votes are properly counted.
“Any time you change addresses, even if you are still on campus, you have to re-register. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know,” said Muhameiti. “If you go on Instagram or social media, you’re going to get probably 20 different infographics about how to vote, and that makes it [seem] a lot more complicated than it is.”
Short also cautioned against overconfidence in the bureaucratic system of voter registration.
“A lot of students are feeling overly confident that they have already registered [and] that they are going to receive their ballot, and there’s an obvious worry about leaving things to last minute,” he said. “[It] can suddenly remove you from the pool of voters in your respective state.”
Bowdoin Votes is still seeking voting captains and more student involvement to reach their goal of maximum student participation in the upcoming elections.
“You want your voice to be involved within [the policies that affect you], and the best way to do that is to vote,” Muhameiti said.