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“Vassar Votes” Helps Students with Ballot Logistics

You’re a Vassar student and you’d really like to vote in this fall’s elections, but you’re not exactly sure how to sure how to do it.

Maybe you’d like to vote locally. Is it too late to register? Maybe you registered last year and lived in Main, and this year you live in Noyes. Do you have to notify local election officials about your new address?

Maybe you’re registered in your hometown and would like to vote by absentee ballot. How do you obtain a ballot, and what’s the deadline for sending it back to your town?

Sara Lawler ’23, Co-President of Democracy Matters, is one of dozens of students on campus with all the answers you’ll need to cast your ballot this fall.

As Election Day approaches, quite a few students are asking these questions. And thanks to the students and staff involved in this year’s Vassar Votes campaign, all of these answers, and many more, are readily available.

One student who can provide a lot of these answers is Sonia Santos ’21, an intern in the Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL) and a point person for the Vassar Votes campaign. “The voting process has a lot of moving parts, and not all questions can be answered in the same way,” Santos said, “but I’m confident we can help anyone who wants to vote to do so.”

Santos said one student recently reached out to her to ask how to obtain an absentee ballot in North Carolina. She explained the entire process, including how to obtain the postage for her ballot, and she stressed the importance of sending the ballot as soon as possible, since voting by mail will be more prevalent this year than ever before.

OCEL Assistant Director Jean Hinkley is acting as a chief organizer of Vassar Votes, helping to recruit and support the phalanx of student voting advisers. “I feel supported by everyone on campus, so I don’t feel like it’s an extra burden,” Hinkley said. “All of us, together, can make an impact; we’re doing good work.”

The Vassar Votes campaign is a more elaborate extension of a less formal system that has been part of election season on campus for several years, said John Bradley, Director of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative and an organizer of Vassar Votes. “College students often face a complex process for voting,” Bradley said, “so we have developed a network of student advisers in each residence to help them deal with some of those complexities.”

Vassar Votes Dorm Voting Advisors have a simple message for their fellow students this fall.

The voting adviser in Noyes, Xan Wolstenholme-Britt ’22, says one of his key resources when he’s asked a question about voting is turbovote.org, a nationwide clearinghouse that customizes information for any potential voter in the country. “Almost every state has different rules and different deadlines,” Wolstenholme-Britt said, “but even if I don’t know the answer I’m able to find it. Turbovote walks you through the whole process.”

Vassar students who are living off-campus this semester have their own voting advisor, Alexandra Finio ’23. Finio is living in her home in Wilmington, DE (and yes, she has met Joe Biden on several occasions), and is in charge of answering voting-related questions from the other approximately 350 Vassar students who are engaged in remote learning.

Finio said she was involved in the Vassar Votes campaign last year and learned that some students who change residence do, in fact, have to notify local election officials because the Vassar campus has three separate election districts.

The Vassar Votes campaign is also collaborating with members of Democracy Matters, a student organization devoted to promoting participation in the electoral process. Democracy Matters Co-President Cassie Cauwels ’22 said the organization has been responding to several emails every day from students with questions about voting. “About 20 percent of our students vote locally, and the other 80 percent use absentee ballots,” Cauwels said, “so we answer inquiries about both all the time.”

Cauwels said she doesn’t mind the extra work she and others are doing this year to ensure that as many students as possible get to the polls this fall. “It’s not something we can take a break from,” she said. “We really need the momentum that’s been gathering this fall to continue right up until Election Day.”