On September 14, student organizations at McDaniel began registering students to vote and assisting with requests for absentee ballots with McDaniel Votes. Started in 2018 by Tanner Lewey, Outreach and Evening Librarian at Hoover Library, the initiative’s mission is to provide resources to students about voting.
McDaniel Votes is in collaboration with the Political Science department, the Office of Student Engagement, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on campus. They are also in a community partnership with the Carroll County League of Women Voters.
Discussing the beginnings of the project, Lewey told me, “The McDaniel Votes effort really began in fall 2019 with a few voter registration tables hosted by the Carroll County League of Women Voters. Then in fall 2020 we knew that it was going to be really important that we figure out something to do for McDaniel Votes and we were getting into a groove with our partnerships.”
Lewey began the planning process for this semester in July, keeping in mind that there would be new challenges due to COVID-19. “It wasn’t so much the obvious things like cleaning and social distancing but really more of the other hurdles that COVID presented. Planning virtual events in general is weird and not quite as simple as planning in-person events,” Lewey said.
Another one of these challenges included not being able to have the League of Women Voters representatives on campus because of McDaniel’s “no outside guests” policy. As one solution, members of the League were available via Zoom to answer any questions students had about voting on National Voter Registration Day, September 22.
Amanda Gelber, Director of the Office of Student Engagement told me that she joined in the organization process shortly after classes began. “We have worked together knowing we wanted to share as many resources with students as possible because regardless of who they’re voting for it is super important that they exercise their right to vote.”
At the start of the fall 2020 semester McDaniel Votes volunteer John McEachern, senior Environmental Studies major, contacted Gelber hoping to get students involved in this effort to get out the vote. McEachern reached out to several student organizations looking for volunteers to work the voting registration tables each day. The organizations involved include Alpha Phi Omega, Black Student Union, Green Life, Hispano-Latinx Alliance, and Sunrise McDaniel.
According to McEachern, “The events are going pretty well. We have a lot of interest from the clubs we are working with and a lot of volunteers, so this is clearly something people are interested in working towards. We’ve helped people who wouldn’t otherwise have the information they need to register or request a ballot.”
As of October 2, Amanda Gelber shared that McDaniel Votes had registered 44 students, helped 63 check their registration status, and assisted with 53 mail in ballot requests, with the numbers continuing to grow each day.
For McEachern, Lewey, and Gelber, assisting students with the voting process is a passion project.
“Research has shown that young people especially are at a disadvantage when it comes to an election that’s mainly being done through mail in voting, so I really wanted to do something that addressed that here at McDaniel,” McEachern said.
For Lewey, her passion was inspired by her experience with voting related events while she interned at the Loyola University of Chicago library during her time in graduate school. “Especially when I came to McDaniel and saw that there wasn’t something cohesive like a campus-wide campaign; that was really something I wanted to be able to bring to McDaniel.”
Gelber told me she has a passion for voting as well as exercising rights as a citizen in general. “I just want students to understand what’s behind voting and what their vote means. When I was a student I wanted to vote but I didn’t know at the time what my vote was towards or if it really mattered. I want students to know that their vote does matter and that they need to show up at the polls.”
Lewey echoed this sentiment saying “Your vote does matter especially in local elections in a town where a dozen or so votes can really shift the entire election. That’s where you can really start seeing changes in your own communities and your own schools.”
With voting registration deadlines quickly approaching, the McDaniel Votes team hopes to continue to reach more students and encourage them to exercise their right to vote in order to preserve American democracy.
Lewey states, “We all as Americans value those things like liberty and justice for all, we just have to make sure that those things are actually working for everybody. We all know that there are systemic issues, and voting isn’t a magic band-aid that’s going to fix them, but what’s important is that it’s a start.”
For help registering to vote, checking your status, or requesting an absentee ballot visit the McDaniel Votes table located by the Pub in Roj Student Center Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 11 a.m.-2 p.m. as well as Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. until October 16.