Jumbo Vote 2016 seeks to increase voter registration on campus

Associate Director of Student Programs Sherri Sklarwitz (left) and Communications Manager Jennifer McAndrew (right) are leading an effort to create an umbrella organization on campus to increase voter registration. Alex Knapp / The Tufts Daily

The Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and a coalition of on-campus political organizations launched Jumbo Vote 2016 this semester, a new initiative to increase voting among Tufts students.

Leaders of several on-campus organizations and Tisch College faculty members met on Jan. 27 to discuss first steps and lay the foundation for the initiative’s future work. Organizations involved with the effort include Tufts Democrats, Tufts Republicans, Cooperation and Innovation in Citizenship (CIVIC), PostScript Magazine, Tufts Votes, the Tufts chapter of the ACLU, Tufts Generation CitizenTufts Students for NARAL, Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES) and Tufts VOXaccording to Jumbo Vote 2016 leader Ben Hoffman.

“[We’re] bringing all of these people together who all have a vested interest in voting…[and] having the students come together through this medium that is Tisch College and organizing a voter drive,” Hoffman, a senior, said.

Jumbo Vote 2016 will hold a Medford/Somerville campus-wide event on Feb. 29 to get students involved with the initiative, according to Dr. Sherri Sklarwitz, the associate director of student programs at Tisch College.

“I see it as giving information to students who might be as familiar with what the voting initiative is all about and then also [as] a planning session about what we could accomplish before…the fall and a broader picture of what this initiative could be,” she said.

Hoffman, who is also the co-founder of CIVIC, said the group is working with two key deadlines in mind: the March 1 Massachusetts primary and the Nov. 8 general election, although the deadline to register for the Massachusetts primary is Feb. 10.

“November 2016 – that’s where there’s the most lofty goal to get everyone to vote,” Hoffman said. “By the start of the [fall 2016] semester … we [will] have people there to register people to vote on campus because we [will] have hit the ground sprinting for the first Tuesday in November.”

According to Tisch College Communications Director Jennifer McAndrew, the initiative grew from conversations within the higher administration about increasing political engagement at Tufts.

“The Provost and the President and [Dean of Tisch College Alan] Solomont were all thinking about the fact that Tisch College and Tufts are all leaders in terms of why understanding young people do or do not vote,” she said.

McAndrew explained that the logical next step was to use findings from their research on political engagement and apply it to promote political learning among students on campus.

Sklarwitz said she contacted Hoffman and fellow CIVIC co-founder Diane Alexander to spearhead the initiative because of their connections with other on-campus political organizations.

“I assumed because CIVIC had so much reach…[they] would be a great way to connect with many different organizations on campus,” Sklarwitz said.

McAndrew said this effort will expand across the university. She and Sklarwitz have spoken to representatives at the university’s Boston and Grafton campuses, and Jumbo Vote 2016 representatives have been designated for every school and major office, McAndrew said.

On the Medford/Somerville campus, Hoffman explained that the voting initiative will be broader than the previous efforts of Tufts Votes, which had a similar goal of increasing voting among Tufts students.

2016-2-3 Tufts Votes

Petrina Chan / The Tufts Daily

“Tufts Votes has existed in the past; what we’re doing now exists past those iterations,” Hoffman said. “Tufts Votes for the longest time was a shell organization of Tufts Dems. It was mostly just run by Dems being the largest political organization on campus, though it was completely non-partisan.”

Currently, first-year Giancarlo Musetti leads Tufts Votes, a position he was recruited for through his involvement in Tufts Democrats, Musetti said. He said the organization is small and could greatly benefit from collaborative efforts with Jumbo Vote 2016.

“As of a few days ago, [Tufts Votes was] me and a few friends and anyone I could get to help register to vote,” Musetti said.

He told the group of student leaders at the Jan. 27 meeting that voter registration efforts are limited when they are primarily executed by a few individuals.

“The issue has been that as we register people to vote, there have been some technical difficulties,” Musetti said.

He added that in his personal experience, his own voting form was not processed by Medford City Hall when he tried to vote in the November mayoral election.

“What I’m hoping for is that we can go electronic because that would make it significantly easier to register people to vote because we wouldn’t have to physically take care of the forms and bring them to city hall,” he said.

At the meeting, McAndrew said Tisch College was hoping to partner with TurboVote, an online voting service to better facilitate voter registration. She explained that any student, faculty or staff with a tufts.edu email address would be able to sign up on TurboVote. Additionally, Tisch College will hire a part-time voting coordinator to assist students with the voting registration process, according to McAndrew.

“The [coordinator is] going to be working directly with students, so they’re going to take the student-run initiatives and make them happen,” Sklarwitz said.

Funding for this project comes from the Provost’s office, McAndrew said. She explained that the money will go toward financing events, salarying the voting coordinator position, helping support the TurboVote partnership, and funding other political engagement opportunities.

While the focus is currently on voting, McAndrew said that this is just a starting point to increase engagement on a variety of issues.

“Expanding political learning is something we [at Tisch College] talk about a lot,” McAndrew said. “Voting, though it’s just one part of it, in a way becomes a proxy of political learning because it is something you can measure. It’s a once in eight-year opportunity. It’s an open presidential election with no incumbent – let’s use that opportunity of an exciting presidential election year to [help] all of our students feel empowered to be politically engaged.”

While there is professional staff involvement in Jumbo Vote 2016, McAndrew said the effort will still be student-led.

“The idea of this is to have students become actively engaged politically and to encourage political learning on campus,” McAndrew said. “I really think there’s a recognition that can only be done with us in a support role and students leading. We expect the students to hold us accountable, and we know that they will, and we look forward to that.”

Hoffman said the current effort is important for encouraging the civic habit of voting.

“College is a great place to establish the habit of voting,” he said. “People who vote are more likely to vote in the future. People who forget to vote are less likely to vote in the next election.”