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Bowdoin Votes makes local voting accessible

October 20, 2023

courtesy of Wendy Van Damme
OFF TO THE POLLS: Bowdoin Votes volunteers help students register to vote in Maine and educate them on important issues in this year's upcoming election.

On Tuesday, November 7, rain or shine, Bowdoin Votes will spend 13 hours running shuttles from Moulton Circle to Brunswick Junior High School to help Bowdoin students cast their votes.

For years, individual students attempted to get their friends, teammates and peers to register to vote. It wasn’t until the 2016 election that students realized the school needed a centralized, coordinated program to assist and encourage student voter registration. Previous organizations and efforts merged to create Bowdoin Votes, a strictly nonpartisan group working through the McKeen Center with the goal of engaging students in the democratic system.

Within just a few years of operation, Bowdoin Votes successfully managed to help the campus achieve a voter turnout rate of more than 85 percent in the 2020 presidential election despite challenges from the pandemic, a nearly ten percent increase in turnout from the 2016 election.

Student leader of Bowdoin Votes Jane Hirschman ’24 emphasized that making voting easily accessible helps to engage turnout.

“A lot of students say, ‘Oh, I probably wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t so easy,’ or ‘You guys make it so easy when you help us walk down to the polls’ or ‘I couldn’t have gone to vote because I don’t have a car,” Hirschman said.

Associate Director for Public Service at the McKeen Center Wendy Van Damme explained that increasing the accessibility of voting includes educating students about the issues on the ballot, which Bowdoin Votes does by publishing a voter information guide each year. Its guide aims to summarize a 62 page state resource that lays out the pros and cons of each ballot question.

“The Bowdoin Votes program assistants synthesized and simplified that to a four-pager,” Van Damme said. “This is a nonpartisan perspective from college students to share with others. Bowdoin Votes is trying to be clear and factual and present options and information to people so they can make good decisions.”

Hirschman said that Bowdoin Votes also attempts to combat political disillusionment.

“I think it’s really easy [to be disillusioned] when you see the margins by which people can win by, or you feel like the government doesn’t represent you and your values. You feel like ‘Even if I vote, they still won’t necessarily represent who I am’” Hirschman said. “I think there’s many different ways in which people can come about not caring about their vote.”

Hirschman aims to push back on that mindset in her role. She proposes that if everyone believed that their vote did not matter, then no one would vote. Yet, votes win elections, and elections matter.

“No one will have one massive impact. It’s all these little votes happening that add up to this impact on how our government functions,” Hirschman said.

Van Damme emphasized the importance of creating a positive first time voting experience in order to help students become lifelong voters and participants in democracy.

“If the first time that you vote is a positive experience, … it becomes something that you would expect to continue doing through your lifetime,” Van Damme said. “Having the advantage of doing the voting registration … is a great way to start that essential tradition of your future as an active citizen.”


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