Tomorrow, a small minority of people around the country will cast ballots in a close and critical midterm election, and a few thousand here and there probably will determine the balance of power in the House and Senate. Some of the tightest elections are in states within driving distance of New Haven — so you can bet there there will be Yalies there bright and early on Tuesday morning, convincing people to vote.
Not long ago it dawned on politicians and network executives that college students could be a useful demographic: previously ignored, the 18-24 age bracket was chronically apathetic and potentially easy to influence. Commentators have continued to bemoan a lack of participation by young people this fall especially, when voter turnout is expected to be particularly low. Meanwhile, quiet and not-so-quiet voting campaigns have plugged along as usual — if not at colleges around the country, at least at Yale.
There is a long and enthusiastic history of Yale students encouraging voter registration on campus and elsewhere. Certainly anyone who has walked through Old Campus or the post office recently has seen it in force. Politically active Yalies have spent the last few weeks trying to convince the less active to register and vote locally; or at very least, to vote, period. And for those who are planning to skirt the polls Tuesday, there will be droves of Yalies out in force participating in an age-old campus tradition of active enfranchisement.
Other Yale students will be knocking on doors in Massachusetts encouraging people to vote in a close gubernatorial race between Democratic General Treasurer Shannon O’Brien ’81 and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Others will head to New Hampshire to help get out the vote in a tight Senate race between democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Rep. John Sununu.
Sure, Yale College is not rocking the vote en masse, but students here have long been aware that they are part of a unique voting bracket: with homes in two places, Yalies who are American citizens have decided this year, as in years past — strategically, emotionally or arbitrarily — whether to vote locally or by absentee ballot.
Three years ago, those who chose to vote by mail had the luxury of knowing their ballots would probably never be unsealed. But the 2000 presidential election changed all of that, particularly for the Floridians at Yale. Now we know elections can be decided by out-of-state voters and overseas military personnel — or by the Supreme Court. Hopefully that has instilled a new every-vote-counts anxiety that will carry Yalies into voting booths tomorrow, particularly since midterm elections are less glamorous and tend to draw smaller crowds.
By and large, Yale students know they should vote, even without MTV in their dorm rooms. Without any prompting, many probably will. If college students have learned anything in the last two years, it is that a single vote is significant — in Connecticut, on the East Coast, anywhere.