Students weigh voting options

Members of the Yale College Democrats help students register to vote in Connecticut on Old Campus.
Members of the Yale College Democrats help students register to vote in Connecticut on Old Campus. Photo by Lorenzo Ligato.

As a freshman in 2009, life-long Democrat Diana Enriquez ’13 registered to vote in Connecticut. That November, her home state of Massachusetts elected Scott Brown, its first Republican senator since 1972.

“I was shocked,” Enriquez said. “Everyone assumes Massachusetts is a monolithic democratic machine, but a lot more people vote for the Republican party than they tend to admit.”

Since then, Enriquez has reregistered in Massachusetts to cast her vote for Brown’s opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, whom Enriquez considers a much stronger candidate than Brown’s 2010 challenger, Martha Coakley. Still, the Senate race in Massachusetts is much closer than Enriquez would like, with the latest polls between the candidates giving Warren a lead of a few percentage points. The Connecticut senate race between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon — for which she is no longer eligible to cast a ballot — is not faring much better for her party.

“These are two states that I thought wouldn’t have competitive races in my lifetime,” Enriquez said. “But it’s unclear whether the two Democrats will end up winning.”

For Enriquez and many other students, the decision to register in Connecticut or their home state presents a series of trade-offs each election cycle. Some make the calculation that their vote will be more valuable in one state or the other, while others feel an unshakable attachment to a particular state — even if remaining there does not seem strategically useful.

 

WEIGHING OPTIONS

According to Chrissy Faessen, vice president of Communications and Marketing for Rock the Vote, there are 45 million voters aged 18-29 in the United States, a quarter of the electorate. But Erik Opsal, senior communications coordinator for the NYU Brennan Center for Justice, said young people are traditionally considered to be the least important voting demographic as they often turn out to vote in the lowest numbers,

Sixty-six percent of voters in the 18-29 demographic voted for Barack Obama in 2008, according to a Pew Poll published on Sept. 28, making youth turnout a particularly important issue in Democrats’ campaigns this year. In Connecticut, Murphy’s campaign first reached out to the Yale College Democrats for support in 2011, according to Dems president Zak Newman ’13. This semester, Murphy has visited campus twice to help the Dems run a voter registration drive and make phone calls to voters in Connecticut.

The Murphy campaign could not be reached for comment.

Kate Duffy, a spokesperson for the McMahon campaign, said her candidate has also visited college campuses including the University of Connceticut and Eastern Connecticut State University. She said McMahon has made particular inroads with student voters this election cycle because she has shown through her leadership of WWE that she is a job-creater.

The Dems sent out a campus-wide survey Wednesday asking students to identify whether they are registered to vote and, if so, in which state they are registered. Dems voting coordinator Emma Janger ’15 said the survey will help the Dems direct voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.

With such a competitive race here in Connecticut — a Rasmussen poll this week gave Murphy a five-point lead and a Quinnipiac University poll last week showed McMahon ahead by a point — students must decide if Connecticut’s races deserve their ballot. Newman said he will vote in Connecticut this year because his vote has real impact in such a close race, whereas it would have little effect in his home state of Texas.

Heather May ’13, the senior representative for the Yale College Republicans, is also registered in Connecticut over her home state of California, a state that Democrats traditionally win by large margins in state-wide elections. Though she recognizes that her vote will likely not sway the presidential campaign here, she is voting to support McMahon, whom she trusts to “get Connecticut back on its feet in terms of the economy.”

But even a tight senatorial race is not enough for some students to register in Connecticut. Alexander Crutchfield ’15, the floor leader of the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Right, is also from California, hailing from a city in the Bay Area. But unlike May, he is registered to vote in his home state.Though his vote will do little to move the presidential or senatorial campaigns in the state, he wants to vote against a ballot initiative that would create a new state bureau to regulate public-sector pensions, he said.

“It’s really easy to think, ‘well this state always goes blue,’” Crutchfield said. “But I care deeply about my state. Dealing with the state budget is the biggest thing. These are really systemic and cancerous issues.”

 

VALUE VOTERS

For students like Crutchfield, specific issues may figure prominently in deciding where to vote. Annie Schweikert ’15 said she registered in her home state of Virginia after watching Republicans limit women’s rights in the state. She will vote for Democrats in every race this November in hopes that her ballot will contribute to the reversal of a law that requires women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Faessen said an important issue weighing on most students’ minds when they decide where to vote is the economy.

“They’re worried, ‘Once we graduate, will we have a job?’” she said. “They’re wondering how they will dig themselves out from a mountain of debt.”

Shelby Baird ’14, a Republican from southwest Pennsylvania, said she is voting to protect the coal mining industry in her home state, which employs many of her neighbors back home. She will vote against President Barack Obama in the state partially because his agenda on the environment includes limiting the use of coal, she said.

“One of the coal mines near my house had to lay off 200 something people because of new restrictions that made it harder to sell coal,” she said.

Other students said they register in states that have races to which they feel most strongly committed. Tyler Blackmon ’16, an intern for the Murphy campaign, has decided to stay registered in his home state of Georgia despite the fact that his county voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain with the largest margin on the eastern seaboard in 2008.

After working on Georgia Democratic candidate Tom McMahan’s state house election this summer, Blackmon thinks McMahan — who focused his campaign on education reform, an issue that resonates on both sides of the aisle — stands a chance to win in November.

“The option I had was to make an impact here in the senate race or to build up the Democratic party of Georgia,” Blackmon said. “I think a lot of people forget how competitive the state of Georgia has the potential to be — we were within 5 points of Obama winning the state in 2008.”

Yale College Republicans chairwoman Elizabeth Henry ’14 said that while she could register to vote in Connecticut, she does not have the institutional memory to vote on local races in New Haven where many of the races are decided in the Democratic primary due to the city’s overwhelming Democratic population.

Instead, she has elected to register in her home state of Mississippi this year, as she wants to shape the politics that exist in the southern state where she is more probable to remain.

“Most likely the four years I am at Yale are the four years I will be in Connecticut,” she said. “But I have spent 18 years in Mississippi. At some point, I will probably end up back there.”

But Sarah Cox ’15, who came to Yale from Washington, D.C., disagrees with the idea that local elections cannot be impactful. She said that after volunteering on aldermanic campaigns last year, she realized that local races in New Haven have a disproportionate potential for impact and change. She added that, now that she lives in New Haven, the races feel more relevant to her life.

“I think it’s extremely important for Yale students to vote in New Haven, because we live here, we are a significant segment of the city’s population, we affect the city and the city affects us,” she said. “Voting here grounds us here in important ways.”

Correction: Oct. 15

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Annie Schweikert ’15 is a registered Democrat. In fact, she is not registered with any political parties.

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