When Saul Carlin ’09, Campus Organizer of Democracy Matters, began registering students to vote in Connecticut’s Feb. 5 primary, he was skeptical about the outcome.
“We began as a coalition of student groups with two goals in mind: to educate the campus and give its students the opportunity to register and vote,” Carlin said. “I never thought our efforts would have an effect on the primary, but today I think they may.”
Considering that Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama are tied in Connecticut at 40 percent each, according to current Democratic Party polls, Carlin admitted that there is a strong possibility the efforts of student groups on campus could swing the primary results in Obama’s favor.
“After Iowa, people began commenting on Obama’s effective formula for translating youth enthusiasm to youth votes,” Carlin said. “This is what we see happening at Wes.”
Karl Grindal ’09, president of the Wesleyan Democrats (WesDems), agreed.
“We’ve seen how the youth are more likely to support Obama over Clinton, and the influx of recent registrations on campus shows that there’s a potential it could affect the results in Connecticut,” Grindal said.
It was the confusion surrounding the registration process, though, which led student groups to spearhead a voter registration drive on campus.
“There are multiple deadlines and often people don’t get their absentee ballots in on time,” Carlin said. “All of this disenfranchises voters. People who work, those who don’t have access to the Internet…don’t always have the time or resources to become informed.”
Carlin also lamented that sometimes voters who register for an absentee ballot fail to receive one by the deadline.
“As a result, their vote didn’t count,” Carlin said. “It’s a broken system.”
Through the weeklong efforts of the WesDems, Wesleyan Students for Barack Obama and Democracy Matters, over 200 students registered to vote in the upcoming week’s primary. The groups kicked off their voter registration drive with a Democracy Matters table in Usdan, and with nearly 20 students working together, went door-to-door registering students.
“This level of excitement is something I haven’t seen before,” Carlin said. “This is a major year for youth turnout, and it’s proving that students are an important demographic in elections.”
“The response from students shows that our efforts could affect the primary,” he said.
By mid-week, out of the 137 students who had registered, 117 had registered as Democrats, two as Republicans, and 18 as Independents, according to Grindal.
“This is reflective of the larger student body,” he said.
The long-term goal of Democracy Matters is to persuade Connecticut to implement same-day voter registration. Nine states have already adopted this system, which allows voters with valid identification to register on the same day as an election.
“As a result, people who move around frequently or aren’t well educated won’t be left out or faced with these systematic exclusions,” Carlin said.
In about two weeks, Carlin and Grindal plan to meet with Connecticut State Senator Gail Slossberg about backing same-day voter registration.
“Although youth are highly skewed to the Democratic Party, they don’t turn out for the elections…the best solution is same-day voter registration,” Grindal said. “The process is frustrating, but if we can make youth involved in voting, then we can make them involved in the election.”
There are roughly 750,000 registered Democrats in Connecticut and, according to Grindal, Wesleyan will potentially have over 500 students voting in the Feb. 5 Connecticut primary. If 100,000 to 200,000 of Connecticut Democrats vote, Wesleyan could constitute up to one percent of the voters.
“My hope is that the results will come within a few hundred votes of each candidate,” Grindal said. “Then I’ll know that our efforts made a difference.”
Those registered to vote should walk or drive to the Middletown Senior Center, 150 William Street, directly across from Broad Street Books.