In the weeks and months leading up to Election Day, Yale campus groups have tirelessly debated, lobbied, phone banked, registered voters and held Zoom panels to increase voter turnout at Yale.
The News talked to four student groups from Yale College, the School of Management and Yale Law School that span the ideological spectrum — the Yale Political Union, Yale Law School Democrats, Yale Law School American Constitution Society and SOM’s Business and Politics Club. Each group had their own method of approaching the election, ranging from driving out to Pennsylvania to serve as poll observers to debating the merits of electoral politics altogether.
Speaker of the YPU McKinsey Crozier ’22, who is also a columnist at the News, said that “the tone of the election is felt much more acutely within the parties than within the Union.” Crozier, who is a member of the Party of the Left, said that most of its members supported Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primary process.
The president and the speaker of the Yale Political Union spoke with the News about how the organization is thinking about the election. They noted that, overall, members of the YPU are much more interested in debating how the “Trump phenomenon” came to be than actually debating the candidates.
In keeping with the Union’s decades-long tradition of not hosting presidential debates, the YPU did not host a Trump-Biden debate this year. However, there have been recent debates, both within the individual parties and the Union at large, that are linked to the candidates and party politics, such as “Resolved: Pack the court” and “Resolved: American democracy is in inextricable decline.”
Crozier described a personal sense of burnout with the election and the Trump-Biden question. This has led the Party of the Left to focus more on long-term issues and the progressive movement, rather than on the upcoming presidential election specifically.
Crozier also said that when considering what to debate, the party has to take into consideration that its purpose is centered around debating.
“We have to have students who are interested in talking about whatever we are talking about,” Crozier said.
Both Crozier and Jeff Cieslikowski ’22, president of the YPU, noted that as a nonpartisan, “a-political” organization, they are constitutionally barred from participating in anything that can be considered political action.
“Because right now initiatives that persuade people to vote can look partisan … engaging in these very open initiatives to encourage people to vote may come across as partisan,” Crozier said.
Yale students are also spearheading efforts to protect voters’ rights beyond campus grounds. Co-Presidents of the Yale Law School Democrats Miguel Mauricio LAW ’22 and Gabriel Delaney LAW ’22 have organized for 100 Yale Law students — nearly one-sixth of the student population of YLS — to travel to Pennsylvania on Election Day to support voter protection efforts in the state.
In an interview with the News, Delaney explained that he and Mauricio reached out to different party groups in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine and Pennsylvania to make a decision about where their efforts would add the most value. According to Delaney, they settled on Maine and Pennsylvania, two crucial swing states, mainly because of their proximity to New Haven. They also added that, while they both lead the Yale Law School Democrats, this trip was organized independently of the organization.
“We’re not going there to preserve the Democratic vote or preserve the Republican vote or preserve the Independent vote,” Delaney said. “We’re going there to preserve the vote, to safeguard the vote for all people.”
Delaney explained that over the past five weeks, every student volunteer has sat through about two hours of training to serve as a poll observer on Election Day.
Mauricio added that in a span of 48 hours, over $3,000 was raised through GoFundMe to subsidize students’ travel and lodging expenses.
“I think law students are incredibly in tune with the political landscape of 2020,” Mauricio said. “Not only with the difficulties that the pandemic is posing towards voting, but also with the rhetoric [we] hear about election integrity and voter suppression. Students here are passionate and they care about the fundamental rights of every American, including voting.”
Mauricio also added that all volunteers are required to get a COVID-19 test prior to leaving for Election Day activities. Students must also comply with Yale’s COVID-19 policies, even when they are in Pennsylvania and Maine. They must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines throughout the trip.
Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred LAW ’22, co-president of the Yale Law School American Constitution Society — a nonpartisan organization for progressive law students — told the News that while the group doesn’t directly support political candidates or campaigns, it plays an important role in promoting progressive debate and ideas on campus.
“ACS is committed to defending the rule of law, and a free, well-functioning democracy is the foundation of that,” said Witkovsky-Eldred. “So we have been focusing on election protection and shining a light on voter suppression and the state of our democracy.”
Most recently, ACS hosted an event with activists and campaign lawyers fighting Florida’s disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies. The group also hosted New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie for a conversation on the future of democracy.
According to Witkovsky-Eldred, ACS is also looking closely at possible post-election scenarios and understanding how they can ensure a “fair result in which everyone’s votes are counted.”
“There is a huge looming threat to the health and legitimacy of our democracy and we plan to fight for our democracy if we need to,” Witkovsky-Eldred told the News. “Since one of the very possible scenarios is something like a Bush v. Gore 2.0 that involves litigations and an effort by Republican-appointed judges to swing the election in favor of the Republican candidate, we think law students have a very important role to play by doing legal research and making our voices heard.”
In an interview with the News, Charles Gress SOM ’21, the co-president of the Yale School of Management’s Business and Politics Club, which is dedicated to political dialogue and direct action, described the club’s efforts to encourage political engagement in the run-up to the election. Its approach has taken two forms: focusing on civic engagement through SOM Votes and hosting events that bring leaders from the nexus of business and politics to speak.
Gress described the goal of SOM Votes as to ensuring that all eligible SOM students are registered to vote, as well as providing additional information and opportunities to learn about voting and civic engagement. In an ordinary year, this would include tabling and one-on-one conversations — this year, however, none of that was possible.
Instead, the club sent out a survey to SOM students that asked if they had a plan to vote. Of the 160 respondents, over 97 percent have affirmed that they have a plan to vote.
“We are really excited about that, just trying to provide that social pressure, that nudge to get people thinking about voting,” Gress told the News.
Election Day is Tuesday.
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Correction, Nov. 3: An earlier version of this story said that some groups were knocking on doors in Pennsylvania. In fact, one group is going to act as poll observers. The article has been updated.