Students Volunteer for Local and Statewide Elections
In an election where more voters than ever got out to the polls and mailed in ballots, many Hopkins students chose to get involved in local and statewide electoral politics for the first time.
Co-head of Young Democrats Nate Meyers ‘22 worked on a local campaign. “I interned on the re-election campaign of my State Senator, Will Haskell. It actually was a pretty solid time commitment, I had at least three hours of work to do during the week, and that number ramped up towards the election,” he says. “The internship really helped [me] understand just how much our state government actually shapes the issues we care about. Legislation regarding social issues, climate change, and wealth are more likely to pass [at the] state [level] than through [the U.S.] Congress, so it’s super important that we [as citizens] are involved in local elections because this can be one of the best ways to see real change get implemented,” continued Meyers.
Meyer’s co-head Drew Williams ’21 chimed in with her experience: “This year I continued to work on State Senator Christine Cohen’s campaign for re-election [as I had in the past].” Senators Haskell and Cohen are both members of the Democratic Party and have been serving as State Senators since 2019. Both won their reelection campaigns.
The 21st Century Democracy elective, available to juniors and seniors every fall term, prioritizes active engagement in the American electoral politics: “...students will volunteer on national or state campaigns as part of the [class’] emphasis [on the election process]” reads the Hopkins Course Guide description. The limitations on campaign participation posed by Covid-19 led students enrolled in the elective to get creative with ways they could get involved while also staying safe. Fiona O’Brien ’21 viewed this as an opportunity: “Because of Covid, we had a lot more options as to what we could actually do to count towards our 10 hours of campaigning. I spent probably eight hours working on the Vote Forward campaign, which is a campaign aimed at encouraging Americans to vote!” O’Brien continued, “I helped with preparation for letter-writing events that took place socially distanced in New Haven. I wrote letters to people in swing states and the last event had about 300 people! The coolest thing about that experience was the number of people willing to write letters. I felt a really strong sense of community and am very proud to say that I was a part of it.”
Letter writing and phone-banking were two of the key ways Hopkins students could get involved while staying safe. When asked about her experience calling voters, Addie Priest ’21 shares, “For my first phone bank experience, I think I talked to about twelve people total. Most of them said I had the wrong number or that their husband/wife couldn’t get to the phone right away. I had a few callers who resented the whole concept of phone banking and were not shy to let me know. I called one woman who promptly told me she was a Republican and should be taken off the calling list. It was still really rewarding, and I felt like I was making a difference in each one of these people’s’ nights. Even if it was a small difference, it felt like everything we were doing counted.”
Williams’ also faced challenges with phone-banking. “[I] phone banked for Joe Biden, texted for the Connecticut Democrats, and texted voters in swing states through People’s Action. Quickly, I came to the conclusion that text banking is incredibly more effective than phone banking. I was able to send hundreds of texts in very little time with canned answers for any response I received back with the option to personalize each text. It was a little disappointing to see the ‘Trump 2020’s and the ‘STOP’s, but I had to acknowledge how different the electorate is in those areas compared to my CT Democrats campaigning.”
Despite the challenges of virtual campaigning and the polarized nature of current American politics, Williams found the work to be powerful. “Every single vote matters, even if it can be difficult to see through the history of voter suppression in our country. Simply having a conversation with someone, even now as we are so polarized, has been proven to be incredibly important.”
Caroline McCarthy ’21, who volunteered for State Representative Josh Eliot, had a different experience. In addition to phone-banking, canvassing, and organizing new volunteers, McCarthy “spent most of Election Day at a polling location standing for Josh and other local Democrats.” After hours of hard work, McCarthy “learned that really, only the local candidate themselves is able to sway a voter’s opinion, and based on the polarity of the nation, the [local] candidate likely [won’t] be able to sway a Republican vote to a Democratic one, so they mainly focus on undecided voters and securing the base.”
Sawyer Maloney ’21 attempted to gain a better understanding of two different parties, as well as the political system as a whole, by campaigning for two drastically different candidates. He shares, “I did campaigning for both a Democrat and a Republican - [Sena-
tor] Cohen and [Connecticut State Representative] Kathy Kennedy. I did a fair amount of calling for Cohen and then did literature drops [leaving campaign materials at doorsteps] for Kennedy a couple [of] days before the election. In my opinion, both candidates had a big incumbency advantage, so I probably didn’t affect the election much, it at all; however, campaigning for a Republican was a helpful way to humanize someone[’s] ideology.”
For each student, working on the local campaign trail had its ups and downs. McCarthy reflected on some of the stories she will keep with her: “One woman had a long conversation with Josh’s opponent, and then walked over to me and told me she would pray for me. I had lots of people shake their heads at me. One man told me he’d ‘never be caught dead voting for a Democrat’ and someone else told me to go shoot myself.”