Washington University in St. Louis students are not only excited to vote in the upcoming election, they are stepping up to help others on campus and in the community cast their ballots as well.
At the School of Law, students founded Power 2 the Polls, a grassroots organization devoted to registering voters, while School of Medicine students led voter registration drives through the national VotER initiative. Dozens of students have become notaries public, and many more have volunteered to help on Election Day, assisting as drivers, poll watchers and election judges. Here, three Washington University students share how they are getting out the vote and how students should prepare for the election.
Otto Brown, sophomore studying political science in Arts & Sciences:
Why did you become a notary?
A lot of the notaries on campus work in various offices that are not open during the pandemic. I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be bad if students couldn’t vote because they couldn’t find a notary?’ So I decided I would become a notary. I feel like it’s a lot easier for students to reach out to other students, especially in a pinch. To be honest, it was a longer and more expensive process than I thought it would be. You have to take a quiz, you have to buy a notary bond, then you have to get officially commissioned and buy your stamp and notary book. But now I’m a notary for Missouri until 2024.
How have you been reaching students?
Through the Gephardt Institute, I’ve worked at two notary events. Those are a quick, easy way for students to have their mail-in and absentee ballots notarized. I also put up a sign in my apartment building that invited people to come from 9 to 11 p.m. most weeknights to get their ballots notarized. And I’m also letting people know I’m available through social media. Don’t let the fact that you need a notary be the reason that you don’t vote.
Why should students consider mail-in and absentee voting?
Missouri does not offer early voting, only early absentee voting. So if you contract the virus and are in quarantine or isolation housing on Election Day, you will not be allowed to go and vote in person. That’s a risk. So, for those without an excuse, a mail-in ballot that requires a notary is the safer way to go. Once you have the ballot in hand, you can’t be stopped from voting. So request a ballot now and track it to make sure it has been received before Election Day. I just got mine and I can’t wait to turn it in.
Marina P. Gross, PhD student studying psychology in Arts & Sciences:
As a German citizen, you cannot vote, but you have been very involved in helping others in the community exercise that right. Tell us more about that history.
For the 2018 midterms, we helped organize about 20 volunteers from the WashU community to provide rides to people in the community through the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s “Souls to the Polls“ program. I personally was able to provide ADA assistance to a voter who was blind. In addition to ensuring they got to cast their ballot, it was really exciting for me because, as U.S. resident without the ability to vote, I had never been inside of a U.S. polling place.
How are you engaged this year?
As someone who loves to build coalitions, I have been bringing together student leaders and groups that are involved in voter engagement efforts. We follow the St. Louis community’s lead by asking, ‘What are your most urgent needs?’ and then use our people power to support their goals, whether they are recruiting census workers or registering voters or giving voters rides to the polls. The point is maximize our impact and not duplicate efforts. We call ourselves the WashU Power Collection Network because there is so much power in our students.
What will you be doing on Election Day?
Because of the pandemic, I personally will not be giving rides this year, and it’s important to note that we tell people they should only participate up to their comfort level. But everyone can make a difference. I will be doing election protection as a poll monitor to watch out for any kind of voter intimidation or misinformation at the polls.
What advice would you give voters?
Make a voting plan. Don’t just show up at the poll and see all of these amendments that you know nothing about. There are very important amendments on this ballot, so talk to your friends, do some research, look at a sample ballot. For first-time voters, it can be really intimidating. And if something goes wrong at the polls, call 866-OUR-VOTE. Lawyers will answer the phone and answer your specific question.
Tennyson Holmes, senior studying political science in Arts & Sciences:
As intern for secretary of state candidate Yinka Faleti (a 2007 alum) and Student Union senator, you already have a packed schedule. Why taken on the extra responsibility of recruiting poll workers?
I love Gen Z. I think we are a lot like the Baby Boomers who fought for social justice and civil rights. I see us as the generation that’s going to turn the tide of our country. The problem is that we love to talk, but we don’t always act. So that’s where I started: How can I get my generation out to impact this election in a positive way? For me, that’s being a poll worker. We know that poll workers tend to be older and are more susceptible to the virus. Our generation is not invincible to COVID, but our risk is lower. So I’m encouraging people to get out there through Power the Polls. You get paid, it’s one day, and you get to see how a different side of the election process works. The response has been great. So far, 100 people have signed up.
How did you become aware of the shortage in poll workers?
It started with the Kentucky primary, which is right across the river from my home of Cincinnati. Louisville, the state’s biggest city, only had one poll location for 616,000 people. That just seemed wrong. I don’t have the power to open more polling locations, but I can help get poll workers. It’s not about doing the biggest thing, but doing what’s possible.
You alluded to the fact that students turn out at lower rates than other age groups. How do you communicate to your peers the importance of voting?
My dad is from Dublin, Georgia, and his side of the family experienced decade after decade of voter suppression because they were Black. I tell people, “You have to understand the amount of pain, the amount of blood, sweat and tears that have been put in so that you have the right to vote. So I don’t care who you vote for, you just have to exercise that right. Just vote.”