This year, Hopkins students became involved in local midterm elections through one of Hopkins’ History electives, 21st Century Democracy.
The class trip allowed 21st Century Democracy students to become engaged in local politics by working the polls and advocating for specific candidates.
This Election Day assignment is part of a larger 21st Century Democracy project that asked students to spend five sessions working for a campaign of their choice. Prior to Election Day, the course required the students to understand the details of this midterm election and the candidates’ policies. Eli Ratner ’24 said, “We were told that this was going to be one of the most influential elections in American history.” According to Ratner, “Through watching the news and reading newspapers, my class could see this firsthand and understand the importance of the election.”
Although they were “told to expect anything [at the polls],” said Andrew Behr ’24, many of the students still had some surprises at the polls. Ava Littman ’23 said, “An older woman came up to me before she went into the building to vote and basically said she used to be an ardent Republican, but after January 6, she couldn’t vote for Republicans anymore.” According to Littman, “She knew nothing about any of the Democratic candidates, but told me to tell her who to vote for. I told her to just vote for all the candidates in row A [the Democratic column].”
Students took on a range of jobs. Behr explained that when he first arrived at the polls on Election Day, he “stood outside the polls with other volunteers and we talked to incoming or exiting voters and helped people that were confused on what to do.” Ratner, meanwhile, “volunteered at Rosa DeLauro’s campaign and spent the whole day running around New Haven, East Haven, and Branford doing a multitude of things.” Ratner said, “[I was] putting up lawn signs, giving encouragement to voters at the polls, or helping report numbers back to the headquarters.”
When asked about how their experiences at the polls connected back to their curriculum in the course, students said that this experience brought ideas taught in class to life. Ratner said, “Candidates get the election results and report them much earlier than the official town chair ever does, so the results given to you by the news are generally not the actual official results. This really connected to one of the major themes we have been talking about in class about democracy and who is really in control.”
Regardless of the course preparations beforehand, several of the students held expectations going in. Behr recognized this as he noted, “It surprised me that the Republicans weren’t as aggressive as they are said to be towards the Democratic Party candidates and voters.” Littman also said that she gained new perspectives after standing at the polls: “I had a long productive conversation with [a Republican campaigner] that wasn’t about politics and it showed me that people of opposing political views should be able to work together.”
The 21st Century Democracy class offers the senior schoolers information that influences their view of the future. Of his anticipation of reaching voting age, Ratner said, “This election made me think that American democracy is more tailored for the elite, candidate-type Americans than just the typical Americans. This is helping me navigate my political world and is showing me how important it is, as a soon-to-be voter, to always think about the true American public when voting. Similarly, Kate Papadatos ’23, emphasized that the experience “reinforced the importance of getting involved in politics and always voting in elections”.