Professor of History Clifton Hood has a new hero: Ainsley Rhodes ’19 of Silver Lake, Ohio, who drove home to vote in the midterm election. “Ainsley and some of her friends encountered obstacles in obtaining absentee ballots,” he says. “She is so committed to participating in the political system that she drove back home, a six-hour trip, to take part in early voting.”
Rhodes is one of many HWS students who are engaged with the electoral process. In fact, for the second year in a row, the Colleges were named the top liberal arts institution for service in Washington Monthly’s College Guide and Rankings, which considers in its criteria the HWS campus’s voter engagement.*
“Contrary to the stereotypes, there are college students who are public spirited in ways that ought to inspire all of us,” says Hood.
Two of those students are Cassidy DiPaola ’18 of Plattsburgh, N.Y. and Bartholomew Lahiff ’20 of Cranford, N.J., co-chairs of HWS Votes and this year’s Civic Leaders of Political Activism at the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning.
“HWS Votes has been hosting events with residential advisers, tabling in Scandling, and putting up political posters to promote voter registration,” says Lahiff. “Additionally, HWS Votes was involved in the Day of Service and has facilitated students becoming involved with political campaigns. We also collaborated with Hillel on a Shabbat dinner focused on voting, and hosted a 15th anniversary celebration of campus efforts to encourage non-partisan voter registration and engagement.”
Using the TurboVotes system to register new voters, they surpassed their original expectations. “At the beginning of the year we had the goal of registering 500 students to TurboVote,” says DiPaola, “but after multiple voter registration drives we have exceeded this number and are now at 702 students using the TurboVote service.”
Their next challenge, according to DiPaola, was getting people to the polls. “Registering is very simple, but it takes more effort to actually go out and vote or get an absentee ballot, and this is where we lose people,” she says. To that end, they are offering rides to the polls for local students, and offered free postage for those who sent in absentee ballots.
Other campus groups also worked to enroll voters and educate students on the issues facing U.S. voters. Jennifer Yuodsnukis ’21 of Columbia, Mo., is chair of the Young Americans for Freedom club. Her group recruited more than 100 new voters and she reported an increase in the number of people who showed up for the group’s meetings. She coordinated a lunch meeting with U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R), of the 23rd District, which includes Geneva, and helped line up volunteers for Reed’s office. “When you inform yourself on the issues and facts, I think you become more likely to become involved in local and national politics in a passionate way,” she says.
On the other side of the political aisle, Alexander Shaw ’19 of Gansevoort, N.Y., president of the College Democrats chapter, says his group ran a voter registration drive at the club fair and helped staff a campaign event for Tracy Mitrano (D), who is running for Reed’s seat. “The work we have done has really hammered home the point that all politics is local,” he says. “Your vote really does matter.”
Shaw believes that some students are kept away from voting by a belief that young adults don’t vote. “I think we are starting to see changes in this mindset as the students I know are relatively well informed and many are adamant about voting and participating in the process,” he says.
For those on campus on Election Day, HWS Votes sponsored an Election Night Party in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center. There was a live stream as the votes came in, free food and a political trivia game.
*Inclusion on Washington Monthly’s 2018 America’s Best Colleges For Student Voting is earned through an institution’s dedication to promoting civic engagement and voter turnout among its student body. The list includes a broad range of 132 two-year and four-year institutions, only six of which are in New York State. For the first time in 2018, Washington Monthly included a voter engagement score as part of their overall college rankings. Among liberal arts colleges HWS ranked 42nd overall and No. 1 for service.