Tuesday’s presidential election was the first time many students were eligible to vote, and there was no shortage of political activism in the weeks leading up to election day.
The Bowdoin College Democrats and Mainers United for Marriage coordinated shuttles between campus and the polling station at Brunswick High School from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. The two groups drove at least 274 students to go to the polls on Tuesday, and 363 students took these shuttles to vote early.
College Democrats Co-President Henry Brockway ’13, who dressed up as Uncle Sam to encourage students to vote, said the College Democrats were hoping to get all students out to the polls, regardless of party affiliation.
“Getting people out to vote and making sure people do vote is more important than necessarily how they vote,” Brockway said.
In addition to offering the shuttles, the College Democrats hung posters and covered campus sidewalks in chalk with messages supporting Democratic candidates and encouraging students to vote early.
The College Democrats also organized canvassing in the battleground state of New Hampshire on the weekends leading up to the election. A group of five students went to Rochester N.H. on November 4, and more than ten students campaigned on October 28.
“The main idea was to talk to as many voters as possible,” said Andrew Miller-Smith ’15, the membership and communication coordinator for the College Democrats. “We wanted to really encourage [people leaning left] to go out to the polls and vote.”
Miller-Smith felt the students’ efforts in New Hampshire had a real impact on President Obama’s success in the state.
“Every interaction you have with voters contributes to the campaign,” Miller-Smith said. “We ended up winning New Hampshire by a good margin. But I definitely think any time you get involved with a campaign, speak to voters, make calls, picket, anything like that, it adds to the overall effort.”
The College Democrats also organized several phone banking evenings for Elizabeth Warren’s successful Senate campaign in Massachusetts in the weeks leading up to the election.
Many students volunteered with Mainers United for Marriage to help raise support for a “yes” vote on Question 1, legalizing same-sex marriage in Maine. Kahla Vise ’16 said she volunteered with Mainers United to support her friends.
“I have a bunch of gay and lesbian friends. I feel like they should have the same rights as my heterosexual friends and it’s an important civil rights issue,” Vise said.
Mainers United conducted several “dorm storms” throughout October where volunteers would knock on students’ doors to encourage voting. The coalition also provided shuttles to the polls during the early voting period and offered weekend training sessions to encourage students to speak about Question 1 in their classes.
Some students felt uncomfortable with the tactics Mainers United used to promote awareness. Jamie Weisbach ’16, an active member of the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance (BQSA), said Mainers United’s aggressive approach deterred him from continuing to campaign with Mainers United.
According to Weisbach, Mainers United advertised an October 4 gathering at Howell House as a kick-off party for the election with information on the campaign. However, upon arrival, students were handed clipboards and sent off to “dorm storm.”
“They didn’t say ‘do you want to do this?’ or ‘here’s how to do this,’ they just said ‘go,’” Weisbach said. “That’s not the sort of activism we wanted to do. We didn’t feel like we had a choice while we were there.”
“Campaign staff assumed there was a furor and a desire to assist with the campaign,” said Jordan Lantz ’15, an intern with Mainers United. “Going shows interest. Our job as campaigners was to translate that into activism, but in no way would someone on the campaign have forced them to do that.”
Weisbach said Mainers United made some LGBT students feel obligated to campaign for Question 1, whether or not they felt comfortable or had time to campaign.
He described Mainers United’s tactics as “too aggressive and a little bit obnoxious.” He noted their assertive tactics to “guilt trip” people to vote in Maine and “putting people on the spot” to sign up to vote.
“I think their tactics could have deterred students [from voting yes on Question 1] who were a little uncertain,” Weisbach said.
Lantz defended Mainers United’s campaign approach.
“Because Question 1 was so important, our job was to mobilize people. Sometimes it makes you step outside your comfort zone,” he said.
The Bowdoin College Republicans were less visible on campus during election season. Co-Chair of the Bowdoin Republicans Sam Sabasteanski ’13 said their aim throughout this election was to “support each other and reaffirm our conservative values.”
He said that during an election season, many Republicans on campus feel antagonized for their political views, especially due to Question 1 and stereotypes regarding Republican views on marriage equality.
The Republicans chose to discuss their views, rather than using visual tactics like the College Democrats.
“We really tried to get the campus thinking this year. Through the past years, we’ve brought speakers, but bringing a big name like Bob White to campus was really important,” Sabasteanski said.
The Bowdoin Republicans held a debate with the Bowdoin Democrats to discuss the differences between the parties. They also organized phone banks for Republican Charlie Summers’ Senate campaign.
Sabasteanski noted many students not affiliated with the Bowdoin Republicans have taken initiative to show their conservative views on their own. He said the Romney campaign signs on Coe Quad were not placed there by the Bowdoin Republicans.