The Yale College Council has always been responsible for Spring Fling and the Fall Show, but this fall it has added another job to its agenda — voter registration.
The YCC this semester created Yale Votes to centralize on-campus voter registration, distribute campaign news and organize community-wide panels on the election. Although group leaders say Yale Votes has been successful in increasing collaboration among student organizations, its voter-registration process has encountered some complications in the past week, including missing information on the forms.
“[Yale Votes] is behind a larger idea that the YCC should not just be planning [its] own events and should really be representative of the student body,” YCC Secretary Jasper Wang ’10 said.
Fourteen on-campus organizations are either cosponsors or affiliates of Yale Votes. Although traditionally groups with political affiliations have handled the majority of on-campus voter registrations, this year Yale Votes has provided Yale with a new nonpartisan voter-registration organization.
“I can say from experience that there is always a good number of students on campus who feel uncomfortable responding to voter registration efforts organized by even the most highly admired campaigns,” Yale for McCain President Brad Galiette ’08 SOM ’11, a former director of finance for the News, wrote in an e-mail. “Non-partisan efforts — so long as the neutrality of these is patently obvious — can serve an important role addressing this segment of the student body.”
The council’s ability to reach out to students, professors and members of the administration has allowed it to organize eight panels, to send out over 104 absentee-ballot request forms and to register 162 students in Connecticut, Wang said.
“We have a type of reach and a type of division of labor that is very conducive to registering voters,” Wang said.
Last Friday, the YCC set up voter-registration tables on Cross Campus, Old Campus and in Bass Cafe and Woolsey Hall, YCC President Rich Tao ’10 said. The Asian American Student Association manned the tables on Cross Campus, and members of the Women’s Leadership Initiative were stationed at Woolsey, Tao said. Last Sunday, YCC representatives were stationed outside each residential college’s dining hall.
“Our first goal is to get people registered and registering,” Tao said.
Nevertheless, the Dems still intend to do a “slightly more in-your-face” door-to-door registration, targeting students from swing states, Dems President Ben Shaffer ’09 said.
Thomas Abell ’10, vice president of the Yale College Republicans, said he thinks Yale Votes will be more effective at registering voters than past Republican efforts on campus.
“I think Yale Votes has the potential to do a better job than we could do for a lot of reasons ,” he said. “When we have a voter-registration drive we typically end up registering more Democrats than Republicans.”
Smaller groups hosting panels and registration events have also benefited from the YCC’s resources, organization chairs say. Yale’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has particularly benefited from its connection with the YCC and Yale Votes, NAACP Secretary Travis Long ’10 said.
“You go to any YCC and Yale NAACP event, and the response has been great,” Long said. “Usually, in the past when we have thrown Yale NAACP events, we would get 10 to 20 people tops. Now we are getting 70 to 100 thanks to the YCC and Yale Democrats.”
Yale Votes has also served as a centralized meeting ground for student groups that are not politically focused, said Jacob Koch, the campus coordinator for Yale for Obama. For example, a packed panel discussion Wednesday night on the 2008 election focused on the historical significance of the election in general, rather than on any one political party or issue, he said.
“I think its nice for students to have a chance to think about the election on a higher level and from a broader perspective,” Koch said.
He said problems with absentee ballot request and out of state voter registration forms included missing signatures or missing photocopies of driver’s licenses. Also, some students did not fill out the part of the form for certain states that requires the voter’s municipality, county and ward. Since some states’ deadlines were this week, the YCC contacted the students from those states whose forms had errors that night.
For students from states whose forms were due later this week, the YCC turned over the forms to the respective college representatives, Tao said. Additionally, Tao said, in some cases the YCC only had a voter registration form or an absentee ballot request form and wanted to make sure that the voter had completed all the prerequisite forms.
In the 24 Connecticut forms with problems, five had illegible handwriting and most others had issues with their addresses. The address problems included some students’ not giving a residence and only putting down a PO box number, or simply giving the name of their residential college as their residence, Tao said.
Tao said these problems could have been a result both of new voters not understanding the forms and of new registrars making mistakes.
“We checked, double-checked and triple-checked forms, because the last thing we want to do is disenfranchise voters,” Tao said.
Tao said most of the delays arose from the fact that the YCC was just being careful.
In preparation for the drive, the YCC had a meeting for the students who would be registering voters, Pierson College YCC Representative Elizabeth Ludwig ’10 said. Additionally, registration information was available on the Yale Votes Web site, and registrars received packets with a “complete guide” to registering voters, Ludwig said.
“We’re 100 percent sure that everyone who was registering students was completely prepared to do so,” Tao said.
The NAACP and the Dems will host Yale Votes’ next panel, “Road to the White House: Race, Class & Ethics in the Presidential Election,” on Oct. 16.