Yale Votes aims to increase student turnout in local elections
Coalition of student groups ramps up voter registration and education efforts in preparation for local Nov. 2 elections.
Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer
Even without a national election, the Yale Votes coalition has continued to work towards increasing voter turnout at Yale.
The coalition — made up of Every Vote Counts, Yale College Democrats and the Yale College Council — works to increase participation in local elections and make systemic changes to increase voting accessibility. The coalition helps register voters on campus, educates students about upcoming elections and creates more accessible ways to vote. For the 2020 presidential election, Yale Votes ran the Pledge to 100 program, in which organizations, professors and individual students pledged to commit to full voter participation. In years without a national election — and in majority-Yale districts — voter turnout tends to be significantly lower, so Yale Votes continues to help students learn about and participate in local elections.
“These years without major elections are actually really good years to build infrastructure for voting on campus,” said Clara Lew-Smith ’22, president of Every Vote Counts. “Whether that’s lobbying in Hartford, or whether that’s sort of pushing the administration to create systems and processes that are more conducive to accessible student voting, this is sort of a good time to lay that groundwork.”
Yale Votes works to create a culture of voting among students and advocates for students to vote in every election — not just in presidential or midterm elections. Yale students can register to vote in New Haven, and the Coalition encourages them to participate in local elections.
The next local election in New Haven will take place on Nov. 2. It will include the city-wide mayoral election, city clerk election and elections for all seats on the Board of Alders. The Board of Alders is the legislative body for the City of New Haven, and two of the 30 wards — Wards 1 and 22 — are majority-Yale districts.
“We encourage people to be invested in the local New Haven community, as residents of New Haven for the time that they’re here,” Lew-Smith said.
Throughout September, Yale Votes has been setting up tables in heavily trafficked areas on campus to help students register to vote. They plan to continue tabling and talking to students through Oct. 26. Students can also become eligible to vote on election day through same-day registration.
Historically, elections for the Board of Alders in districts composed of majority-Yale populations have low voter turnout. In the 2017 election, Yale student Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 was elected Ward 1 Alder with only 244 votes.
Alex Guzhnay ’24 is running for the Ward 1 seat, which Eli Sabin ’22 currently holds. Sabin is running for the Ward 7 seat.
“I think that Ward 7 is different,” Sabin told the News in September. “But it’s also similar. The challenges that we’re facing as a community in general, from the affordable housing crisis, to public safety and trying to provide more opportunities for folks in all of our neighborhoods, those are things that everyone in every neighborhood cares about.”
After the Nov. 2 election, Yale Votes plans to continue its mission of promoting civic engagement by creating more educational materials for Yale students. One of its goals for the year is to create a toolkit to consolidate helpful information about voter registration for students, according to voter engagement fellow for Yale College Democrats Kate Reynolds ’25.
The toolkit also seeks to prepare Yale students for civic engagement both as students and after graduation.
“We want to make information about voting a part of the regular curriculum that all Yale students have to go through to ensure that every Yale student is registered to vote,” Reynolds said.
Yale Votes also encourages students to participate in local elections in their hometowns. The group helps students register for absentee ballots to allow them to vote in their home elections while living on campus in New Haven.
In 2020, Yale Votes helped implement a policy which allows Yale College students to send all of their election-related mail directly to their residential colleges. This allows for students to receive their absentee ballots and forms without having to invest in a P.O. Box.
The New Haven Registrar of Voters is located at 200 Orange St.