On Tuesday evening, shortly after the last Mainers cast their ballots for state and nationwide races, a small number of Bowdoin students gathered in Chase Barn to watch the election results pour in.
The event was sponsored by Bowdoin Democrats and was the culmination of the group’s efforts to get more students involved in the pine tree state’s politics.
Event organizers Gracie Loney ’25 and Gwen Gleason ’25 noted that Bowdoin students have an important stake in the state’s politics, whether they’re part- or full-time Maine residents.
“I’m from Oklahoma, but I think that my vote matters more here,” Loney said. “I think that’s because this is a purple state, and the election is very critical because of the Governor race … that has influence and sway on real lives and for real people, especially the people that I love and care about who live here in Maine.”
Students were watching at Chase Barn when Governor Janet Mills pulled ahead of Paul LePage and U.S. Representatives Jared Golden (D-ME) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) pulled ahead of their challengers. Bowdoin Democrats Vice President Ryan Kovarovics ’23 noted a shift in energy Wednesday as students across campus tracked ongoing races and reflected on the results.
“The atmosphere on campus has been really positive. I’ve seen a lot of people still intimately attuned to the New York Times election tracker website, but people are also feeling really a lot more upbeat than they were on Monday,” Kovarovics said. “The election is definitely something that is affecting the … student body.”
Kovarovics was not at the watch party; instead, he and other members of Bowdoin Democrats leadership team attended the Maine Democratic Party’s watch party in Portland.
Bowdoin Democrats Communications and Finance Director Eliza Schotten ’24 hoped that the watch party would feel welcoming for all Bowdoin students—not just registered Democrats.
“We really wanted to come at this from a non-partisan standpoint and make sure it was catered to a wide group of people,” Schotten said.
The watch party was the capstone of a long fall of organizing for the of a long fall of organizing for the Bowdoin Democrats. Programming included canvassing for the Mills campaign in and around Brunswick and gubernatorial debate watch parties. Loney said that some events that the club hoped to host, such as registration drives, were unable to take place because of the Bowdoin Student Political Activity Policy.
“Bowdoin Votes has to remain nonpartisan, so they can’t work with any sort of politically affiliated group. We tried to do registration drives, but that can only be done through Bowdoin Votes on campus,” Loney said. “Instead, we focused on canvassing for certain politicians and striving for Democrats to be elected to office but not registering people.”
Gleason agreed that it can be hard to plan Bowdoin Democrats events while still working within the rules that the administration has set for clubs on campus.
“I wish that the administration would let us interact more with the student body, especially leading up to the election. They do that for good reason. The administration doesn’t let us do much for getting people registered to vote, but I think as a political group on campus, those are things that we should be able to talk about on both sides,” Gleason said.
With approximately ten students in attendance, the turnout was not as high as the group had initially hoped.
“It can be tough because students say they vote Democratically, but they’re not actually intentionally participating with the Bowdoin Dems,” Loney said.
Although turnout was slim, the Bowdoin Democrats remain optimistic about future events. Leaders noted that they will continue organizing and planning events this semester and into the spring to reaffirm the importance of student engagement in politics.
“Keeping the momentum going from what we’ve been doing so far this semester is really important. Coming out of Covid[-19] as a club has been difficult, … and mobilizing students has been difficult,” Gleason said. “We’re building back slowly, trying to keep people interested and engaged in local and national politics.”
Looking forward, club leaders hope to continue hosting in-person events to bring the community back together and underscore the power that young voters have.
“There’s a big population of us who don’t vote and aren’t super political because we feel like our opinions don’t matter, or we feel like we just don’t know a lot of the world yet,” Schotten said. “Your vote matters no matter what your age is. We are all responsible for voicing our opinions about how we think our country should run.”