Updated on October 24, 2018, at 10:55 a.m.
Close to 350 undergraduate students registered to vote and requested absentee ballots for the midterms elections as a part of CUvotes, a new campaign that aims to increase student political engagement and voter turnout.
Student volunteers from Columbia’s chapters of the Roosevelt Institute, Hillel's MitzVote, and Every Vote Counts worked over the course of last week to encourage students to vote, planning group walks to polling locations and helping students request their absentee ballots at booths stationed outside Butler Library.
The upcoming midterms will prove key in determining the political balance in Washington, especially following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which will shift the court toward a conservative majority. Voter registration is surging across the country, with both Republicans and Democrats pushing to mobilize millennial voters.
Earlier this month, hundreds of students and faculty members demonstrated on Low Steps and in the International Affairs Building in protest of Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“It’s a contentious political time. … Much of my views, as of late, have been shaped as reaction to what’s been going on from the dominating times,” Jake Fisher, SEAS ’22, said. “It’s been two years since 2016; it’s an important checking point for the country as a whole.”
As part of the CUvotes campaign, volunteers registered 83 students to vote and provided 154 students with absentee ballots, using paper ballots and the online voter registration tool Vote.org. The group also reached 518 people through their texting campaign, which asked students whether they had a plan to vote.
The campaign followed Columbia’s fifth annual Voting Week, which ran from Sept. 28 to Oct. 6, and aimed to foster student activism and civic engagement through events that explored the intersection between identity and politics.
Zachary Kimmel, CC ’21, worked on Voting Week and helped start the CUvotes campaign after he realized that, for many students, voter registration is not a primary concern.
“I was on the steering committee for Columbia Voting Week and I noticed that we weren’t doing as much of voter registration, particularly with first-years, as I would have wanted,” he said.
Kimmel said that CUvotes aimed to reach students across the University, launching a social media campaign and tabling everywhere from Low Steps to fraternity and sorority events.
“We’ve been also doing a lot of work to make voting really personal and to make democracy quite personal. … A lot of students that I’ve texted, a lot of my friends, have said, “Oh I plan on voting absentee, but I actually don’t know how to do this,” he said. “If you don’t need an absentee ballot, you’re probably going to get a text from one of us, or if you’re in a Greek organization, you’re probably going to interact with our initiative. You’re going to interact with CUvotes in some way because of the variety of programming that we do.”
Students highlighted a further need for greater awareness about different candidates prior to the elections.
“The one thing I feel is lacking on this campus, and it’s a larger issue, is that knowledge of the candidates themselves is limited,” Arya Rao, CC ’22, said.
Kimmel said that CUvotes hoped to dispel the stereotype of college students as apathetic to the elections.
“If you interact with any student at Columbia, you know that that’s not true. You know that students are paying attention; students very much care about what’s going on,” Kimmel said.
The midterm elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6. For students voting in New York, information about polling locations can be found here.