By Harris Rogers ’21 (he/him/his), Staff Writer
Since the start of the semester, Davidson students have encountered a series of eager volunteers, emails, and social media posts pushing the same message: register to vote. Setting up outside campus locations like the Alvarez Student Union, Belk residence hall, and Summit Outpost, Davidson Votes has been carrying out daily voter registration campaigns in an effort to maximize the number of students registered to vote before the November election.
Founded during the 2019-2020 school year by a core group of six students, Davidson Votes falls under the umbrella of the Center for Political Engagement (CPE). CPE is a longstanding organization on campus that seeks to foster general political engagement among the Davidson student body. Davidson Votes, however, takes a more specific approach. The organization focuses solely on voting and voter registration. While seeking to register new voters in North Carolina, the members of Davidson Votes also hope to educate Davidson students about the importance of voting at both the national and local levels.
According to Tommy Cromie ’22, one of the organization’s co-chairs, several different partisan groups came together to support voter registration and subsequently founded the Davidson Votes initiative. Originally, groups like the Center for Political for Engagement and Davidson Democrats conducted voter registration independently, Cromie said.
However, Cromie explained, “We all came together through CPE to unify our voter registration efforts.” CPE carried out this consolidation in order to “make registration a succinct effort that’s multi-partisan and covering every partisan organization on campus.” The Davidson College Republicans are also involved in the Davidson Votes initiative, according to the organization’s president, Maya Pillai ‘21.
Cromie works alongside five other co-chairs, including Hannah Dugan ’21, Joe DeMartin ‘21, John Leiner ’21, Maddie Buitendorp ‘22, and Grace Flinchum ’23. DeMartin, Buitendorp, and Flinchum are also leaders for the Center for Political Engagement, serving as the organization’s President, Vice President, and Chief of Staff, respectively.
The goals of Davidson Votes extend beyond registering to vote in North Carolina, according to Cromie. “Davidson Votes has three goals. First is registration, second is education, and third is turnout.” he said.
Cromie also addressed the issue of student turnout on election day. “Political science research has shown that the main reason college students don’t vote is because they don’t feel educated about what they are voting on,” he said.
Students can have a notable impact through voting in these elections, Cromie stressed. “One of the main examples we use was the local election of Democrat Christy Clark, who is the State House representative for our district.,” he added. Clark won her 2018 election by only 415 votes, defeating Republican challenger John Bradford.
Cromie sees this as an important example for students to understand so that they realize “how close these elections can be.” He noted that state and local elections “get decided by far closer margins than national elections, and can have a greater impact on our lives than national elections.”
DeMartin ‘21 elaborated upon the importance of registering Davidson College students to vote. “Young people specifically in North Carolina have the ability to make a disproportionate impact on this year’s presidential and senate election,” he said.
This is in large part due to North Carolina’s significant influence over elections overall. According to DeMartin, “We are ranked #2 for potential impact on the Presidential Race and #4 in potential impact on the Senate race — the only state to appear in the top 5 of both lists.”
Leiner ’21, who is involved in both CPE and Davidson Votes, focuses primarily on developing strategies to register more students at Davidson. He stressed the importance of including students in the voting process, citing a historical lack of student involvement in elections.
Leiner explained how Davidson Votes hopes to address this shortcoming. “Even though students are the largest voting demographic, they are also the least likely to vote,” he said.
In order to increase student turnout on election day, Leiner has been focusing on creating “strategies for education and engagement on campus.” One such strategy is the tables set up around campus, where students can register quickly and easily, as well as ask questions about the importance of voting and the registration process.
Leiner is considering the pandemic when creating new strategies, explaining that, “outside of voter registration, the priority has been to help students start the absentee ballot process.” Not only does such encouragement protect students from potentially dangerous in-person voting, but requesting a ballot early also increases the chance that students will cast their vote by election day.
Davidson Votes includes dozens of student volunteers, who help to staff the registration tables. Marcus Whipple ’21 is one such volunteer. Whipple said he was inspired by friends in CPE, by social media posts about Davidson Votes, and by a desire to “help facilitate people’s voices” through voting and voter education.
Whipple has heard positive feedback from students when he interacts with them during tabling. “We want to keep doing this initiative throughout the month, but so far we’ve seen a good response,” Whipple said.
Whipple also noted the support Davidson Votes has seen from official social media accounts affiliated with the college. “The support is definitely there from both the students and the administration,” Whipple said.
Julia Tayloe ’21 registered through the Davidson Votes initiative and commented positively on her experience, particularly regarding the process’s convenience. “Davidson Votes made it so easy for me to register. I was able to DM questions over Instagram and get answers back right away,” Tayloe said.
Tayloe also admired the extra effort demonstrated by Davidson Votes volunteers. “Joe DeMartin brought paperwork to my apartment and helped me figure it all out, and when there was a problem with my registration, he called the Board of Elections for me. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing, so I’m so grateful for the help and how accessible it all was,” Tayloe said.
DeMartin reflected upon the success of Davidson Votes thus far. “We have at least 160 students who have registered and/or requested an absentee ballot. We’re still getting names from our volunteers, so that’s probably an undercount,” he said.
Voter registration will remain open in North Carolina until October 9th. According to DeMartin, Davison Votes will “have tables between Belk and Commons and in front of Union from 12-8 every weekday until then.”