This is Skidmore Podcast: Don’t boo. Vote!
On the latest episode of This is Skidmore, Max Fleischman '19, Doris Donelan '19 and Hannah Fishman '19 sit down with Robin Adams, director of leadership activites, to discuss their efforts to boost voter registration. They cover topics of voter suppression, absentee ballots and how they are getting Skidmore students involved in this year's general election.
Robin: I'm here with Hannah Fishman, Max Fleischman, and Doris Donolin. Donolin?
Robin: Donolin, yes. And these are three students that I worked with this year, and they worked with each other to get out the vote here at Skidmore. On November 6 of this year, 2018, we have the midterm elections and these are three students who are pretty passionate about raising the number of college students that voted. I wanted them to tell their story and talk about what their passions are and what they've been doing. So, let's start with it.
Robin: Max, I'm going to start with you because you and I have been a lot in touch over the summer. Tell me what started this with you?
Max: For me it really came from just kind of shock and disappointment in turn out numbers for millennials and Gen-Z in the 2016 election and then was like well, I really can't just sit by and let that happen again. Actually, the day after the election I had a meeting with my advisor at the time and she kind of went on this whole rant where she was very upset about how no college students were voting and how this was such a low turn out year for college students and how this really needed to change and ever since then I've really been thinking about this and thinking well, what am I gonna do? And then, last semester I got elected as SGA President and I was like well, I have this position, might as well use it to do something good and try to get people more involved in politics.
Robin: Hannah, you came to this as a sort of, not disaffected, but non-active member of the Skidmore Democrats, right?
Hannah: Well, we did this event last year - we did an event for National Voter Registration day, in conjunction with the Saratoga county League of Women Voters, and Robin and I coordinated with their liaison, Kathy, and we did that through Doris's club, Connect with Congress, and the League of Women Voters were registering voters while we were doing kind of trivia about voting itself, it was the 100th anniversary of when women got the right to vote in New York, so, you know, come and talk to us, tell us where you're registered to vote, and answer some questions, take a candy bar kind of thing. We had stickers celebrating voter registration and it went really well, they registered, I want to say like 50 voters. I'm not sure, it was an off year election...
Robin: This was last year?
Hannah: This was last year. But it went very well and after the event, we kind of then lightly kept in touch with Kathy about doing the event the next year and so there was some se-mailing back and forth over the summer, but no real plans. Got back to school, and I heard this amazing news that SGA was taking this on - this big initiative and it was awesome. And I was kind of like oh, well, um, can I play? I want to be part of this. And I kind of weaseled my way in and here I am now. I think this event went amazingly, I wouldn't say like definitely way better than last year, but it was just different and especially the energy about registering to vote and voting in this year's midterms is way different than it was in voting in 2017.
Robin: Tell me about Connect with Congress.
Doris: So, I'm not a Political Science major, I'm Social Work major...
Robin: That's okay.
Doris: I was in this Social Work class called Working with Groups, Organizations, and Communities, and you have to do a big project for the class, spend like 40 hours on it in order to get the credit. So we made a club called Connect with Congress. And the point was for it to be a way for people to get in touch with their representative in the House of Representatives. That was kind of the original goal, but then also in our mission statement we wanted to up voter turn out at Skidmore, and have more students be registered to vote and be more knowledgeable about voting, and it kind of just came with the mission statement, that if people were more informed and involved then they're gonna want to vote more, so we started doing voter registration drives.
Doris: Yeah, last year with Hannah, that was kind of the first time I got involved with it because I was like, this seems like a really great way to do something active on campus.
Doris: Something that's also been different is the whole absentee thing, a lot of people will be like, are you registered to vote? And they're like, yeah. Then be like, do you have your absentee? And then they're like, oh my god, no I don't. So we've been mailing people's absentee ballots for them.
Hannah: That, I think, has been one of my favorite things, especially compared to last year when you get someone and you're like, okay but do you need absentee ballot, and they turn - they stop - and they give you a look, and they're like yeah, I do.
Robin: ...so it's the same as sharing a meme on Facebook.
Max: Yeah, exactly. It's the first step that you have some other stuff you gotta do.
Doris: And people don't realize they need to get their absentee for every election. That it won't just keep coming after you've done it the first time.
Hannah:And it's been great because then they usually want to talk about it and learn about absentee, and we've also, I think, in the past, the drives have focused just on registering people here in Saratoga Springs, but I think we've been doing a good job of making sure, oh, you know, here are the pros and cons of registering here versus where you're from. If you wanted to register at home, here's how you could do that, and not just limiting people to registering here.
Max: I think registering for absentee ballots has been the hot new thing. It's nice to see though, it's like people caring about their home and wanting to get involved with their own local politics.
Doris:If you make it easy for people, they're very into it.
Max:Yeah, a lot of hesitation and lack in interest in voting, not even lack of interest, the supposed lack of interest, comes from more ignorance and anxiety about voting because people don't understand the basics of it. Actually, one girl directly asked me, so like with the midterms, am I just voting for like Democrats, basically she thought it was like a primary situation. And I was like no, it's just like the presidential election except there's no president running. It's just a general election. And she was like, oh, then she understood that, and she was a lot better and she felt so much more prepared and then she was asking more about like, okay, so what's going on with my home state, who's running - blah, blah, blah - how do I get an absentee ballot, and then she was able to get all that information and be prepared for election day.
Hannah:I've had a few people walk by and be like, oh, this is for SGA? No, I don't care, I'm not voting. And they're like, no, no, no, this is for the real government. No hate on SGA, but this one's for a really important election.
Max:That might have a bigger impact on you than what I will do in SGA.
Robin: You're very good at e-mails, usually...
Max: Thank you. Sometimes.
Hannah:It's the subject lines, you get the people, hooking in with the...
Max:Yeah, with the flirty subject lines.
Robin:One of the things I was struck by is the presence, the consistent, consistent, consistent, presence out there, talking to people who have questions is important. As I was doing a sort of larger workshop for a group of students about the importance of voting, and fielding individual questions in a large room is colossally difficult, and I knew this all along, but was really brought to light at that moment.
Robin:How, I believe, bonkers the national, the voting laws are in our country, and that they vary from state to state, often times county to county, and it's incredibly difficult. So to work with one student on what it means in Cuayahoga county while there is a slew of other people from a different county or a different state makes it really difficult. So, actually being out there and talking to people is so important. And you guys were all able to do this, in an incredibly and purposefully non-partisan way. Partnered with the Skidmore Republicans, who are out there helping you register people to vote, and I think that's something that we have to do as an institution, right?
Robin:It may not be the best method of attracting people to a cause, right? But, in here, the cause is voting.
Doris:People also think that voting won't have a direct impact on their lives, but it actually does in a lot of ways. Policy effects everyone. So, if you can bring something up, you're like, you know this happens because of this thing that happened recently. They're like, oh my god, wow, that's crazy.
Robin:And you've entered into a policy writing competition?
Doris:No, I might. So, I'm in a class right now called Social Policy and Social Justice, which is a 300 level senior social work class, and what you do for that class is write a policy statement. So, he was talking about if we wanted to, we could enter the competition. And I'm actually doing mine on a voting policy.
Robin:Very interesting. What's sort of voting policy?
Doris:The governor of New Hampshire recently passed this law that means in order to vote in New Hampshire you need to declare a legal residency, and that come in to effect in July 2019. So, it's like here, if you study at Skidmore, you can just register to vote in New York and then you can go to the ICC and just vote, but it's gonna be next year in New Hampshire, you'll need either a car registered in New Hampshire, which can cost hundreds of dollars or you need to get a new license. It's pretty much just tantamount to a poll tax. And, it's really kind of a blatant measure to suppress the student vote, in my opinion, because a lot of students aren't New Hampshire residents who study in New Hampshire.
Hannah:And I think the ability for students to vote on a campus is so important. I don't think that's always been a thing, I don't know the history of it, but when people finally realize, well these students live in this area, on this campus, so yeah, they should be able to be registered to vote here. They could be here for four years, maybe more with graduate school.
Hannah:Students here are like, oh I don't know anything about Saratoga politics, but okay, you don't need to know every detail, but the policy that's put into action effects you and also future Skidmore students to come. It sets the ground for what you can do in the area and Skidmore has to abide by New York state and Saratoga Springs law. If that law is bad - Juuling's illegal - that effects you.
Robin:It is New York state law that Skidmore students, college students, can vote in the town that you are living. You are residents of this town. Therefore, you represent this town. That was challenged at one point, I believe the New York state supreme court, where it was struck down.
Hannah: Yeah, Skidmore's its own district within Saratoga Springs, which is really important. We actually have two seats on the Saratoga Springs Democratic committee. I was originally going to be one of those seats, but I'm actually registered in Maryland and they said, you need to re-register, and I was like no. I want to vote in Maryland elections, so now they have some other students who are going to fill the positions, but they get to be a part of that policy discussion within a committee that's mostly older people from Saratoga Springs.
Doris:Recently, I was talking to my Professor, and he said this - were you guys reading about the thing that was going in Georgia where they were trying to shut down all these polling stations? So basically apparently the same thing, the county tried to do with voting at Skidmore, where a couple years ago they tried to shut down voting at Skidmore on account of it not being accessible and to move it to a town building, or even to the gym, that was an idea, which I think people would vote less if it was in the gym. It's kind of just crazy how it happens everywhere, that people are trying to shut down polling locations. I just thought was interesting that that happened at Skidmore.
Max:It's almost like voting is made so complicated to lower the vote or something like that. It's almost like we have a history of disenfranchising people from their access to voting, and that just sort of continues even though it gets better, it's maybe not necessarily done. There's always room to improve.
Robin:Easy, Max. You've registered people to vote. We've still got...
Hannah:About a week.
Robin:Well we've got a month until the election so, after the deadlines what's next?
Max:Well reminding people to vote, that's the basic thing. It's just being like, hey, be aware of the issues, know when election day is, know when you have to get your absentee ballot in, really, getting registered, getting your absentee ballot, signed up for it, is great, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't actually show up and vote. It's the equivalent of liking something on Facebook. It doesn't really do anything it just shows, oh I'm kind of interested, but if you don't show up then it means absolutely nothing, it means diddly squat.
Robin:So will you be out there with your laptops on vote.org, showing people?
Hannah:I think it's getting people's phone numbers or e-mails for election day reminder sign ups and people have been actually much more willing to give those because we're not gonna bombard you with anything except for, hey, it's November 6th, get your butt to the polls.
Max:Yeah, I'm gonna write a very funny e-mail, send it out, remind people to vote.
Robin:Guy's, thank you for doing this.
Robin:We've been ending these podcasts with a question, and I think it's kind of cute so, I'm gonna keep doing it. Hannah...
Hannah:Oh, I was gonna say don't start with me.
Doris:You can start with me.
Robin:Doris, what's your creative thought?
Doris:My creative thought would be, I don't know if this is a creative thought, but basically to be creative with what you do with your time in college because I feel like it's easy to just get into this rhythm of you wake up, you go to class, I don't know, and a lot of people do extra curriculars, but I feel like colleges are a really great place with lots of resources for being active and for working towards things that are important to you and, you know when you go home for Thanksgiving and your relatives are like, you young people are ruined, you never do anything, no like, actually, I help registered over 100 people, so, I don't know, I just think to really pay attention to the resources around you.
Max:Yeah, I would reiterate pay attention to all the resources around you. There's so much stuff here that you can take advantage of and that people just don't realize. Also, pay attention to the news and think of the national as local because every national issue starts with a small town local issue, take like the heroin or opioid epidemic going on in the country right now. I think in upstate New York, 52% of New Yorkers will admit to knowing someone who's been affected by that, like that's a local issue.
Max:That's something that's affecting us locally, I think, from my experience in my high school, my peers who I know who have passed away, have passed away because of issues with opioids or heroin and so it's taking this national issue and saying, oh this is where it's affecting me right here right now, what can I do to help fix that? And one of the things you can do is pay attention to politics and who you're putting in office, and where they're getting their money from, if they're getting money from big pharma or if they're getting money from more just local people in the area and it's very important to be aware of that stuff. That's my creative thought.
Hannah:My creative thought is, this is weird, but be actually creative in the way that you engage students and voters in talking about voting and registering to vote, I think, because I've found that the normal, just like - hey, register to vote, voting is good - doesn't work at high rates and really connecting to the student on a level that they can relate to is really important and local issues related to them from their home town or here at Skidmore, that's I think the way to reach people.
Hannah:And finding aspects of their lives that are touched by policies is really useful in making sure that people turn out to vote, people show up and that's my creative thought.
Robin:Thank you all. It's been a pleasure. Doris, say goodbye to the people.
Doris: Goodbye everyone.
Robin:Bye to the people.
Hannah:Bye. See ya later.