Bowdoin Votes, a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort, didn’t waste any time getting started this year.
As first-year students were arriving on campus Tuesday morning, Archer Thomas ’21 and Will Parker ’20 were parked at a table outside, wearing an Uncle Sam top hat and a Statue of Liberty visor, respectively, to help first-years — most of them first-time voters — register to vote.
“We’re prepared to register students in any of the fifty states, and set them up with absentee ballot requests so they can get the ballots here. And we can help them with information on how to send them in,” Thomas explained.Thomas is helping to organize Bowdoin Votes this year with Andrew Lardie, the McKeen Center for the Common Good’s associate director for service and leadership.
Lardie launched Bowdoin Votes in 2016, and is ramping up outreach this year in advance of the midterm elections. He’s teaching volunteer students to register new voters in any state and direct them to information about candidates and ballot questions.
Leading up to Election Day, Bowdoin Votes volunteers plan to regularly roll out the “votemobile,” as their information table is nicknamed, to campus events, including Greenstock Festival, talks, and Common Good Day, which is a campus-wide day of volunteering in the local community. On Nov. 6, the College will run vans every fifteen minutes to the Brunswick polls, leaving from the Moulton Union circle.
“Right now there is a national awakening that colleges have a responsibility to do more about civic engagement and voting,” Lardie said. This summer, he attended the third annual Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement conference, offered by the American Association of State College and Universities, to gather and share ideas and resources with other college administrators.
These efforts are an attempt to address low voter turnout among college and university students. Data indicates that only 18 percent of college students voted in 2014. Those numbers do tend to increase during presidential elections; 45.1 percent of students voted in 2012, and 48.3 percent cast a vote in 2016. Bowdoin’s voting rates increased from 38.5 percent in 2012 to 52.6 percent in 2016.
Inspiring Bowdoin students to become committed voters fits in well with the mission of Bowdoin’s McKeen Center, according to Lardie. “I think it’s a fundamental aspect of a healthy life, and an important part of our job as educators,” he said. “And I happen to work in a department where our mandate is to help people understand how they fit into the common good, and if we don’t have a responsibility for providing this kind of support, then who does?”