Colby Votes works to increase participation in local elections

A number of Colby students this year are working on the NESCAC Votes initiative, its purpose is to create higher voter registration and turnout rates in future elections. An added incentive is competition between other NESCAC schools. The program only began at the College this academic year, but it has been running at a number of other schools like Bates, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Hamilton, and Tufts. The initiative’s national partner, the nonpartisan ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, will also be an aspect of the project.

Voting in Waterville has been a struggle for students in recent history. During the 2018-19 academic year, close to 150 student ballots were contested in court after the discovery that students had used P.O. boxes as their addresses rather than residential addresses. Colby students triumphed in the end, but it was a reminder of how precarious voting rights can be.

Elizabeth Jabar, Director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships at the College, who is serving as the campus coordinator for NESCAC Votes, is leading a stakeholder group of students and faculty who are working together to lead the initiative and create an Action Plan. This Action Plan will outline goals for the initative and step towards achieving those goals. Several students will also be sent to the NESCAC Votes summit at Middlebury this October. 

Colby Votes’s primary goals are to incorporate nonpartisan civic learning into curricular and co-curricular education, adopt practices that will advance students’ political engagement and informed voter participation, and register as many students to vote on campus as possible.  

Meanwhile, NESCAC Votes aims to tackle the issue of low college student voter turnout by advancing nonpartisan civic learning and voter participation on each of the 11 campuses.

Stakeholders from each of the campuses participate in a series of conference calls and a summit at Middlebury College. Its first collective goal is to improve the student voter turnout rate by at least 11 points across the 11 campuses in the 2020 general election, from an average of 53% to 64%. 

“Voting is one of the most critical forms of civic participation,” Jabar said. “By making electoral education and participation a central focus of the Colby experience, we inspire students to participate in society as engaged citizens and gain civic skills to propel change in communities and the broader world.” 

“As a part of Colby Votes, we’ve been registering people to vote in the Spa for the last few weeks,” Colby Votes student leader Emma Terwilliger `22 said. Terwilliger and her coworkers are reminding campus that every student who is registered to vote in Waterville will have to update their registration yearly. Tabling will continue the week of Oct. 14-18.