In the lead-up to midterm elections, University of Maine students have been pushing hard to engage the community on voting, ballot issues and gubernatorial races. Among the strongest advocates for student political engagement are the various officially-recognized campus political clubs and organizations.
Katie Hess, the president of UMaine’s College Democrats, said that during this election season her group has tabled to hand out voter information, canvassed and hosted both congressional and state politicians — all to motivate the nation’s demographic that is least likely to vote.
“I am really worried that voter turnout is going to be low this year,” Hess said. “Obviously midterm elections have a lower turnout than the presidential election. Students might be busy with classes and forget to vote … The college plays a big part in the election this [year] and could swing certain races.”
Hess notes that the College Republicans and College Democrats collaborate quite frequently. This fall, the two groups worked together to make a bipartisan pamphlet with information on Maine’s congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
They are not the only groups coming together over bipartisan political engagement this fall.
The UMaine Voter Activation Network has been leading the charge on campus to unite students and faculty around voter awareness.
Beginning in September, the group pushed to get students to register to vote by helping to host events like a “Why I Vote” booth on the university Mall on Sept. 25, National Voter Registration Day. In a final reminder email before election day, Professor of Political Science Rob Glover, one of the principal coordinators of the initiative, said that the group planned to host non-partisan informational tables throughout the day in the Memorial Union and New Balance Recreation Center.
The final push to engage voters is a non-partisan “Party at the Polls” event on Election Day, hosted by the UMaine Feminist Collective and sponsored by Student Government.
Co-Chair of the Feminist Collective Meghan Frisard said that she believes the UMaine community is generally engaged in the political process.
“We see a lot of turn out at political events, every class I am in has had someone talk about voting, candidates are brought to campus often … and there are many political student groups that are very active. I think that having the polling place for Orono being right on campus also makes students more likely to be politically engaged,” Frisard said.
Students are often considered to be one of the most crucial and under-represented voting demographics in the nation. In October 2018, the Public Religion Research Institute released a report that said only 35 percent of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 were “absolutely certain to vote” in November’s congressional elections.
A similar report from 2014 found a slightly higher number in the same age range: 38 percent. In comparison, the average of all Americans’ likelihood to vote was 71 percent in 2014 and now 81 percent in 2018.
While the student groups at UMaine work to defy the trend of low young voter turnout rates, Hess still feels that there is room for improvement.
“The Maine College Democrats and Republicans have around 15-20 members each,” Hess said. “This may sound like a big group, but the University of Maine has a student body of 12,000. I really want our club to grow and I definitely think it is possible.”