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Brown students help with midterm campaigns, voter registration

Students emphasize importance of midterm, local elections

For many on campus, fall is marked by the onslaught of pumpkin spice-everything, the changing of the leaves and the swapping out of short sleeves for long ones as Providence weather takes a turn for the worse. But for politically active Brown students, fall 2022 means midterm elections are right around the corner. 

A number of these students have been preparing for the midterm elections since last year, and they say efforts to increase student engagement with the midterms will only intensify in the coming months. While organizations on campus range from partisan to nonpartisan, a common goal unites them all: flip the traditional script that prioritizes presidential elections over midterms, and generate buzz and excitement about the midterms that will get students to the polls come November.

Campus political organizations

Cecilia Marrinan ’24, president of the Brown Democrats, notes that while midterms tend to enter the general public’s awareness only now, the club’s preparations for the elections began long ago. Last spring, the Brown Democrats brought Luis Muñoz, a gubernatorial candidate, on campus to speak to club members. 

The club also hosted a Congressional panel featuring five of the eight declared Democratic candidates running for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District at the time. The panel gave the candidates a platform to speak and was also open to students on campus, which highlights one of Marrinan’s priorities for the upcoming elections: boosting student engagement with local politics to illustrate the impact that community elections can have.

“I think the importance of the midterms is that to understand the American political process, you have to understand that … every single position that’s available has the impact to change the trajectory of this country,” Marrinan said. “I think there’s a lot of power there, but not a lot of attention.”

The club is hoping to bring several different midterm candidates on campus to speak during the fall semester. Through their email newsletter, the club also publicizes phone-banking events and canvassing opportunities for politicians who reach out to the club. 

While the Brown Democrats cannot, per their club constitution, endorse any particular candidate, Marrinan said that the club tries to promote every opportunity that comes their way.

“I think offering midterm candidates a platform to speak gives students a chance to listen and get different political perspectives in real time, whether they agree with [them] or not,” Marrinan said.

Marrinan hopes that engaging with midterms-related events will show students the value of participating in local politics as well as national elections. 

“Students have a voice, and we still can influence perspectives or create change in our community, and ultimately that will heavily affect national electoral outcomes,” Marrinan said.

The Brown Republicans did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Unlike the Brown Democrats, Every Vote Counts at Brown is a non-partisan club that does not work with specific candidates or campaigns. Their club leaders are actively focused on increasing voter registration and turnout among students for the midterm elections.

Fausto Rojas ’23, EVC’s vice president of advocacy, says the club plans to use many of the canvassing strategies they employed for the presidential election in 2020, when outreach was entirely online.

“The midterm elections are difficult in the sense that they don’t get the same type of momentum as a presidential election, even though they should,” Rojas said. “So I think we’re trying to really push different strategies in terms of recruiting organizers and volunteers.”

EVC’s Vice President of Community Irene Sung ’23 says a greater emphasis will be placed on diversifying outreach on campus to reach different types of potential voters. This outreach will include in-person campus canvassing and text-banking events, which Sung says will also serve as community bonding events. 

Sung and Rojas plan to target groups on Brown’s campus who are often overlooked in recruiting strategies because of their traditionally low voting rates.

“We’re going to reach out to the athletics department, and then we’re going to reach out to cultural groups,” Sung said.

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Rojas mentioned that this more “aggressive” recruiting strategy is particularly important for the coming midterms.

He mentioned that in 2014, only 13% of Brown students voted in the midterm elections, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. EVC leaders want to avoid the same lull in 2022, given that the tension surrounding the Trump administration that drove voter turnout in 2018 has died down. 

“In 2020, the stakes were very, very high and everyone knew that, but I don’t think people realize the implications of midterm elections, and people don’t realize the impact that [they] can have on how government functions,” Sung said.

“It can be concerning when democracies place so much emphasis on voting for a single person,” Rojas said. “We have to move beyond that if we want to be really, truly democratic, or if we want to stick to a well functioning democracy. Voting for other figures within government, (such as in) local elections and senators and so on, is just as important, if not more important.”

Local campaign involvement

As someone who served for about a year as political director for Corey Jones’s campaign for city council in Ward 3, Logan Danker ’24 is familiar with the importance of local politics and the upcoming midterm elections. Danker has taken on a number of responsibilities during his time on the campaign, including communications, canvassing in the field and policy development. The campaign has been canvassing in Ward 3, which covers neighborhoods north of Brown’s campus, with strategies varying from phone-banking and emails to going door-to-door to speak with constituents about election information and voter registration.

“Turnout is usually lower in midterm elections, and since Rhode Island is a pretty blue state, the primaries are particularly important here,” Danker said.

Danker feels the local outreach has been impactful in terms of giving community members a voice.

“If you have a good relationship with your neighbors and your constituents, it's very easy to enact the change that they want to see in policy, and the first step in doing that and in making your voice heard is getting out the vote,” Danker said. “It seems like we've been able to have a lot of really good conversations with local residents and they seem pretty excited to vote.”

In spite of traditionally lower voter engagement in midterms, Danker emphasizes that it’s crucial not to overlook these elections — he said midterms are often the best way to address the issues that affect communities on a day-to-day basis.

“A lot of issues that people are most passionate about in their local hometown, like local resources, education, infrastructure … are really dealt with on the city or state level, and to actually see change and actually see your government working more effectively for you, you definitely should vote in the midterm (elections),” Danker said.

Danker noted that midterm elections have a political domino effect that can trickle up to the national level, something that he sees as particularly important given the current political climate.

“(Midterms) set the tone for the next two years, and there’s a lot of progress that can be made and a lot of important issues always, but I especially think in this election, things like reproductive rights are very important,” Danker said. “People need to get out the vote to make sure that things like that are protected and codified into law if they’re not already.”

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