Student leaders at the College of William and Mary hope that increased voter registration efforts on campus that registered over 300 students to vote in the City of Williamsburg will affect the upcoming Williamsburg City Council elections.
The possibility of electing a student candidate had several campus organizations, including the Student Assembly and the Virginia Organizing Project, working to add as many students to the city’s voter rolls as possible before the April 12 registration deadline.
“It’s going really well,” Michael Douglass ’11, who works for the Scott Foster Campaign, said. “I think one of the indicators is that people are very jazzed about the fact that there’s a student running. Obviously a lot of people are jazzed about the fact that it’s Scott [Foster ’10], too.”
According to Douglass, that excitement could lead to increased student turnout.
“Usually, students tend to vote about one in four, for the number that are registered in a local election,” he said. “I think we’re going to get much closer to a one to one ratio in this election because there are so many people who are just so excited.”
While student excitement may be higher now than it was in 2008, the total number of new students registering to vote is lower. Registration efforts during 2008 freshmen orientation alone netted more than 400 student voters.
During the 2008 city council elections, student candidate Matt Beato ’09 received 893 votes, many from students at the College. Douglass said that, due to increased registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, current candidate Foster could improve on Beato’s student turnout.
“The number of students on campus who are registered is definitely greater than 1,400. I’d say a good bit above that,” Douglass said. “If they even vote at the same rate, which was roughly one in four, then there will be more votes.”
From 2006 to 2008, between 2,170 and 2,398 students registered to vote in the city.
Foster’s campaign has worked with other groups, including the SA and the VOP, to maximize student registration. According to SA Undersecretary for Voter Registration Initiatives Molly Bulman ’12, student registration has been more difficult for this election than it was for the 2008 presidential election or the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election.
“We’re registering about 10 to 20 a week, which may not seem like a lot, but we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel for voters right now,” Bulman said. “It’s either the people that are gung-ho about their hometown politics that don’t want to change their registration, or people that are apathetic to Williamsburg politics. I think this year it’s a little bit harder, because there’s no national election to boost participation, but city council elections are really starting to get around and more people are aware of it.”
Mark Hrishro ’10 said that influencing the political path of Williamsburg was a key factor in his registering to vote.
“I’ve been registered to vote since I was a freshman,” Hrishro said. “I figured if I’m going to be spending eight or nine months here a year … I might as well be voting here, because clearly at some point or another one of the issues that goes before the city council is going to affect me in some way.”
Brian Lapierre ’13 agreed that involvement with city affairs influenced his decision to register.
“I think it’s an important thing for us to get involved [because we] live here, study here, [we’ve] got to be involved, and it’s important to get our voices heard,” Lapierre said.
Although registration efforts increased as the registration deadline neared, Bulman said that efforts to add students to the voter roles were an ongoing process throughout the year.
“What we started working on in the fall was registering the incoming freshmen at lots of campus-wide events during orientation,” she said. “We got a huge base of freshmen registrations around that time. And then as the gubernatorial election came up, tableing in the Sadler Center.”
As of April 1, the Virginia State Board of Elections recorded 183 new registered voters in Williamsburg since the beginning of the year, and 161 voters who transferred their registration into the city.
While the Foster campaign included student voter registration at several on-campus rallies, Douglass said that other campaigns did not focus on student registration.
“I know that [city council candidate] Doug Pons sent an e-mail out to a bunch of people and it included ‘if you’re not registered to vote, make sure you get registered by the 12th,’” Douglass said. “I haven’t seen anybody really have a presence on campus for voter registration aside from us, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have one.”
Bulman said that getting new student voters to go to the polls would also be challenging.
“Turnout is going to be hard for this election because it’s the second day of finals, and you know how students at William and Mary are,” she said. “They’re stuck in the third floor of Swem that last day, but the Student Assembly will be providing vans and shuttles to and from [polling places] from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day. So we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure that there’s turnout.”