Tufts groups continue preparing for 2020 US presidential election

With an unprecedented presidential election just around the corner, emotions are running high on campus. Tufts groups have been hard at work since last spring, preparing campus for this influential election season. All hands are on deck.

Together, Mail Services, university leadership, the Office of Communications and Marketing, the ExperimentalCollege (ExCollege), the Africana Center, the Asian American Center, the FIRST Resource Center, the School of Engineering, the Office of Sustainability, JumboVote, the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, Tufts Dining, the Women’s Center, the Latino Center, the Department of Political Science, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office for Campus Life, Residential Life, Athletics, the Office of Government & Community Relations and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, have formed an ad hoc group to plan various events for the presidential election, according to Jessica Byrnes (LA’12), program administrator for Tisch College. 

Due to COVID-19, planning has changed since the Daily spoke to this ad hoc group last spring, but the overarching goals have not. It is still determined to make sure the Tufts community is informed, supported and engaged so that students can confidently go out and vote. 

Lidya Woldeyesus, the student chair for JumboVote, spoke on the steps this group has taken for implementing these goals. 

“For [JumboVote], we have to be a lot more strategic in how we use our time and how we connect with people,” Woldeyesus, a junior, said. “On the registration front … we do in-person voter registration most of the time. That’s how in 2018 we registered 88% of students to vote. So much of that was because we were in the [Mayer] Campus Center or the dining hall every single day.”

Although it cannot reach students in person, JumboVote has found new ways to meet students where they are. Over the summer, the organization sent out packets with voter registration information to all first-years and postcards to all returning students, according to Woldeyesus. 

Woldeyesus shared that one of JumboVote’s main priorities is having early communication about the processes of mail-in and absentee voting, especially at a school where most students are out of state

“Depending on what state you are from [or] how close you are to election night … it can be extremely difficult to register to vote [and] to request your absentee vote,” Woldeyesus said.  “Much of that is voter suppression tactics, especially [toward] the college students.”

To aid with the confusion behind voting, groups on campus have created a Tufts election website. Byrnes said the site is expected to go live this week.

“In 2016, we had an election website that was the center of all election-related information across Tufts. We have been working with [the Office of Communications and Marketing]  to do the same thing in 2020,” Byrnes said. “We are working with folks there to design the site, but also to figure out how people across the university can put in information on what they’re doing around the election.” 

Another critical aspect of ensuring students can vote this fall is working with Mail Services to create a seamless system for processing and distributing voting materials, Byrnes said. 

“[In the spring primaries], we ran into a few problems with Mail Services,” Byrnes said. “Those experiences sort of laid it out to us what our work is. Over the summer, and continuing in the fall we have been working closely with Mail Services to try to think through what are some of the obstacles they anticipate seeing, and just [seeing] how much this is for one department to hold.”

To decrease the burden on Mail Services, they are planning on hiring more student workers for the department, Byrnes said. 

They also have to prepare for a scenario in which Tufts moves to a “red status,” a situation in which there is increased community spread, testing and contact tracing is limited and personal protective equipment is unavailable. If red status is reached, all on-campus students get sent home.

“We are planning for worse case scenarios, so that if it’s the absolute worst day, we get sent home, and everyone has already requested absentee ballots,” Woldeyesus said. “For example, how do we reroute mail? How do we make sure students are still able to vote in November? Those are the things that [COVID-19] has just messed up entirely.”

Logistics is only half the battle when it comes to getting students ready to vote; the other half is motivation. 

ExCollege Director Howard Woolf believes that getting young people to vote will be the game changer in terms of election results. 

“Typically numbers aren’t great amongst young voters … so that to me is what our goal should be,” Woolf said. “You know the old phrase, ‘Think locally, act globally.’ We need to make sure Tufts people are going to vote, and hopefully vote in the way I would like them to, but just vote.”

One way the consortium of campus organizations is getting students engaged is through the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. This fall, there will be conversations covering many issues and concerns in this election. Topics include police brutality, epigenetics and climate change, according to the Tisch College event website. 

“This year we are really focusing on having civic conversations and panels on all the major issues we are going to be voting on in November, and that frankly are at stake in this election,” Woldeyesus said. “I think it will be really exciting to bring more attention and people to a lot of the work and conversations that they are going to be having inside Tisch College this year.”

Leading up to the election, Tisch College and JumboVote have developed debate and election night party events. 

“So much of the work that JumboVote has done in the past has really been community building and spending time together to watch debates and to watch election night together, but due to COVID-19, so much of it is so different. We really want to be able to foster that type of community,” Woldeyesus said. “We are working with the residential halls through our democracy reps program, so we can still build community and talk about the election and the way people feel about it as things develop.”

Byrnes also said that they are creating free debate watching packages for students. Packages will include a debate watch bingo card, a face mask that says “Vote” on it and a bag of popcorn. 

“I think the key will be uplifting students who want to watch the election in their dorms, and uplifting those smaller celebrations and parties,” Byrnes said.

On another front, JumboVote is also encouraging students to volunteer as poll workers.

“There’s a really massive shortage of poll workers in Massachusetts, and for the first time, you don’t have to be registered to vote in Massachusetts to be a poll worker. You just need to be eligible to work in the United States,” Woldeyesus said. “We are working with the state election network and MassVOTE to host a poll worker training for students who are interested in that.” 

For students who want to engage academically, there are courses offered this semester that are centered around the election.

“[James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences,] is teaching his American politics course for the first time in a while, precisely because it is an election year and he wanted to be able to do that as a way of giving people context for what might happen and what is going on,” Woolf said.

The ad hoc group wants to make sure students are educated about the election not only before, but also on election night and following up after.

“What happens if there isn’t a clear winner?” Byrnes said. “There are a million situations that I feel like might be unique with the current administration and what might happen [on election night]. I think some of the work is just preparing the students for understanding that we might not have an answer on election night … It’s going to be a very emotional experience no matter what happens.”

After the election, the ad hoc group plans on hosting a panel of various leaders and professors about the results. 

“In 2016, the chair of the political science department had a panel with faculty across the university with different expertise talking about what does this mean, what is the transition going to look like, who do we think might be in the Trump administration, what does this mean for immigration, what does this mean for everyone in our country?” Byrnes said. “That is something I definitely want to replicate … I think that is just one idea and more of an academic focus on it.” 

Leaders of this ad hoc group shared their thoughts on how they hope this election goes.

“One of my goals, as student chair of JumboVote, is helping people to become lifelong voters, because the data shows that the younger you start voting, the longer you will vote,” Woldeyesus said. “I really hope students feel empowered and feel like their voice mattered in this election.”

You only get one presidential election to vote in during college, and Byrnes said she hopes this will bring people together.

“I hope that no matter what happens, that it is a unifying experience for the Tufts community,” Byrnes said.

For more information on the election and registering to vote, connect with JumboVote at https://tufts.turbovote.org/ and on all social media platforms.


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