With the presidential election quickly approaching, student organizations at the University of Massachusetts are working hard to get their fellow peers the information they need to vote successfully on Nov. 3. The almost entirely virtual semester format means most of these initiatives are being facilitated digitally.
Last academic year, the Student Government Association coordinated with the town of Amherst to set up an early voting location on campus. Sonya Epstein, the then-secretary of university policy and external affairs, worked on setting up this initiative with their then-understudy, Andrew Abramson.
Epstein explained that through meetings with “University admin and the [Amherst] town clerk,” as well as Tony Maroulis, the executive director of external relations and university events, the voting location was set up successfully in the Bartlett building.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, University administration decided against allowing on-campus voting this fall. However, there are still university facilitated initiatives surrounding voter engagement, such as “making sure that off campus students and students on campus know where to go vote,” Epstein said.
As the newly elected president of the SGA, Epstein added that they “want to make sure that the SGA is doing everything possible to [educate] on social media,” during the virtual semester.
Other student organizations are also utilizing the power of social media to spread voting information.
For instance, the UMass Democrats have been using their Instagram to remind “everyone about important [voting and registration] deadlines, [because] we want everyone to vote,” said UMass Democrats Treasurer Maxwell McDermott, a junior political science major.
Along with reminders, the organization has been working to spread information about how to vote and track mail-in ballots amidst the pandemic. They also are looking past the presidential race, hoping to “spread awareness of elections, what’s at stake, [and] who’s running,” as “state candidates don’t get enough attention,” McDermott explained.
With so much of the UMass student body being from Massachusetts, the University Democrats are looking to build interest in their party’s state candidates through a series of posts they call ‘candidate spotlights’ on social media. “We’ll post on Instagram introductions to Democrats for Massachusetts’ House and Senate,” which will cover the candidate, their district, the platform they’re running on and how to get involved in their campaigns, said McDermott.
The UMass Democrats plan to reach out to other organizations in the coming weeks to plan additional events, discussions and initiatives in relation to policy and voting.
When it comes to reaching fellow students, organizations don’t need a political affiliation to succeed in spreading voting information to the UMass body. The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), a nonpartisan student run advocacy group on campus, has been sharing information in observance of “National Voter Education Week,” which was held on the first full week of October, via their Instagram account.
“Social media is a big outreach [tool] we try to use,” says Brendan Geraghty, the vice chair of the organization and a senior sustainable community development major. On top of using their own Instagram, Geraghty explained that MassPIRG works with other groups’ social media to spread the message as far as they can.
Class announcements are “also something that we found has been very effective in getting students registered to vote,” said Olivia Price, the vice chair of MassPIRG and a senior political science major. This fall, these announcements are happening virtually and being facilitated by members of the organization.
“We drop a link, we go through why it’s important to vote, [and] all the steps on that link that can help register students to vote,” says Geraghty. The link in question is studentvote.org, which allows students to easily access information about online voter registration if their state permits it.
“It will also follow up with them to make sure they one, completed the form and two, remind them on election day and the coming days that ‘hey, there’s an election coming up, make sure you know where to go vote,’” he said.
From phone banking nights to get people registered to vote to Q&A panels, MassPIRG has organized and hosted a wide variety of events to get voter information out to the UMass community. “We are trying to bridge the gap between getting students registered to vote and actually voting,” said Price regarding their National Voter Education Week events.
Other organizations on campus that have been sharing voting information via social media include the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, J Street chapter, the Leading Women of Tomorrow chapter and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter of UMass.
When asked about the message they hope sticks with students from voting events and initiatives, student organizations offered some advice.
“Start the process now,” said Geraghty. “Whether that’s getting absentee ballot information, [or] whether that’s planning when you’re going to be voting.”
“The deadlines are coming a lot sooner than people think,” Price added.
McDermott said he hopes students recognize that “no one should feel like they don’t know enough about politics. . . that its best left to other people, its best left to experts.”
“This is our job as citizens, as Massachusetts residents. We should be involved in the process.”
Sara Abdelouahed can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @AbdelouahedSara.