Who will win in Virginia?

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Student political groups debate, incentivize voting as Congressional races heat up. GRAPHIC BY LEONOR GRAVE, NIA KITCHIN / THE FLAT HAT

In order to spread awareness of political literacy and advocacy in the Williamsburg community, student political organizations on campus are increasing Get Out the Vote efforts. These efforts are in anticipation of Election Day Nov. 6, during which all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a third of those in the Senate will be up for election.

Members of the Young Democrats organization at the College of William and Mary are currently canvassing in the nearby community to increase name-recognition for the Democratic House of Representatives candidate, Elaine Luria. The Young Democrats are working closely with Luria’s campaign and have an “Elaine-tern” intern program through which student interns make phone calls and canvass neighborhoods to reach out to potential voters.

“We knock on doors all around Williamsburg and the James City County Area; we went to Poquoson one weekend earlier this semester,” Young Democrats Vice President Evelyn Gibson ’20 said. “We’re focused on engaging with voters so that they know who our candidate is, and they can put a face to all of the signs and ads that they see around.”

Gibson has been very involved in Luria’s campaign as an intern and is looking forward to casting her vote for a candidate she has spent several months canvassing for. 

“I’ve been interning for [Luria’s] campaign, I’ve been taking calls and knocking doors, and on Nov. 6 I’m going to go vote for her,” Gibson said. “That’s just going to be really exciting for me.”

“I’ve been interning for [Luria’s] campaign, I’ve been taking calls and knocking doors, and on Nov. 6 I’m going to go vote for her,” Gibson said. “That’s just going to be really exciting for me.”

In addition to verbally encouraging Williamsburg residents to vote, the Young Democrats also help potential voters make plans for Election Day, outlining times to vote and their method of transportation to a polling location.

“Studies show that [potential voters’] likelihood to vote increases a lot when they’ve actually made that plan [to vote] before Election Day comes, and they have that in their brain of when to go,” Young Democrats President Cody Mills ’20 said.

The College Republicans are also revitalizing efforts to create political awareness ahead of the Nov. 6 election. The current Republican incumbent for the 2nd District is Scott Taylor. Members of the College Republicans are making connections and reaching out to prominent lobbying groups to target the younger generation specifically.

“In recent months, we’ve been working with the lobbying group Americans for Prosperity,” College Republicans member Tom Callahan ’21 said in a written statement. “One of [Americans for Prosperity’s] main objectives is to encourage the emerging generation to be more politically active.”

The College Republicans provide an open forum for political discussion in their meetings, and also offer methods for members to get involved more directly with the political and electoral system.

“In one regard, we are a social club; we hold weekly meetings where members can freely express political views which would likely not be well received in other social circles on campus,” Callahan said in a written statement. “However, we are also a very functional club; we provide members with the opportunity to get involved with a multitude of political groups ranging from campaigns to lobbying groups and Think Tanks.”

Callahan believes that voting is critical for participation in the political process and that college students in particular have a lot to contribute.

“Voting is truthfully the most effective way to make your voice heard in our political system. It is certainly more impactful than getting into heated debates on Twitter,” Callahan said in a written statement. “Considering that college students are such a large, politically motivated demographic, I find it rather paradoxical that more college students don’t vote.”

One of the common reasons for not voting that student political organizations encounter stems from a general apathy and lack of interest. Young Democrats member Louisa Janssen ’21 said that she tries to respond to apathy by engaging in conversation with voters.

“When I’m canvassing for older and middle-aged populations, they’ll just say that they don’t care, that they have no preference whatsoever, which is just so foreign to me,” Janssen said. “I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who have zero opinion on politics whatsoever. Those are the types of people that I really try to engage with and ask, ‘Are you sure?’”

Callahan even cites political apathy as a reason why people might not vote. He said that he often hears from people that they believe their individual votes do not make a difference, and that this dissuades them from participating in elections.

“Considering partisan control of the Virginia House of Delegates was determined by a coin toss last election cycle because the two candidates tied, that can’t be further from the truth,” Callahan said in a written statement.

Mills makes a clear distinction between people that can vote but choose not to, versus those that are legally disenfranchised and unable to vote at all. That said, he feels that students at the College in particular have an interest in politics that often just doesn’t convert into a vote.

“Being on this campus, it’s particularly frustrating sometimes, because there’s such a disconnect between passion and action,” Mills said.

“Being on this campus, it’s particularly frustrating sometimes, because there’s such a disconnect between passion and action,” Mills said. “Students on this campus are so passionate about politics, it just doesn’t necessarily translate into them getting to vote unless there’s that push.”

Some political organizations on-campus plan to incite that push by working collaboratively as well as separately. Callahan said that the College Republicans have been coordinating with AMP, the Young Democrats and the Young Democratic Socialists to organize a debate on the upcoming election. 

Janssen said that she believes student involvement in local and state politics can be critical in leading to national change, which makes the upcoming election an important one in which to participate. 

“I feel like a lot of people frequently push aside state politics, saying that it’s not important, but so much major legislation goes down in the states,” Janssen said. “Once states are taking action, other states will follow, and then it has a federal impact.”