With just under a week to go before November 3, the Haverford College community is busily preparing for what will be many students’ first presidential election. While COVID-19 restrictions have put a halt to in-person events, the student body remains as politically engaged as ever.
Pennsylvania, which narrowly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, is once again poised to be one of the most crucial swing states in the presidential election. Both campaigns have flooded the airwaves with ads and visited the state numerous times over the past several months. And many Haverford students, especially those who hail from solidly red or blue states, have jumped at the opportunity to cast their vote in Pennsylvania.
“I think there is a lot more urgency in this election compared to previous elections. Stakes are high and tensions are high. Our last presidential election cycle blindsided us—no one predicted Trump winning,” reflected Ellie Kimmelman ’21, co-president of the Haverford College Democrats. “And now he is using his platform to spread fear and distrust about voting in an effort to undermine confidence in the election results. So, going into this election, I would say voters are more anxious and mobilized.”
Many groups on campus are working hard to educate and provide election resources to the student body. Haverford Votes, in particular, has been diligently working all semester to get the student body ready for election day. A non-partisan organization, they center their efforts around a three-fold mission. First, get people registered to vote. Second, provide unbiased information on who is on the ballot and what their stances are. Third, help students create a voting plan. Professor Zach Oberfield, the faculty sponsor of Haverford Votes, stressed that students should “vote and vote early” when they can, as COVID worries have significantly increased the number of mail-in ballots requested.
No-excuse vote by mail only became available in Pennsylvania in 2019, with the passage of Act 77. Previously, voters were required to vote in person on Election Day unless they had a reason for being away from the polls, such as illness or travel. With the onset of the pandemic, the implementation of mail-in voting took on a newfound significance—but county elections offices have often struggled to cope with the flood of requests for ballots.
Although many Haverford students have already chosen to vote by mail, there will be a polling site open at the college’s Facility Building on November 3 from 7 am to 8 pm, with social distancing precautions in place. During those hours, Haverford will open its campus to the public to welcome residents from the surrounding neighborhoods to vote.
The Haverford College Democrats have also been very active in helping prepare the campus for the upcoming election. “We have been registering students to vote and getting them to request absentee ballots,” explained Kimmelman. “The process of voting by mail is overly complicated, especially for first-time voters and people from out of state, so it’s been our priority to simplify the process as much as possible by distributing mail-in request forms, giving step-by-step instructions for filling out and tracking your request, and lastly, guidelines for how to fill out your ballot and where and when to send it to make sure it is counted.”
Kimmelman added: “We’ve also been co-sponsoring presidential and vice-presidential debate watch parties and have co-hosted phone banking events with HC Students for Biden to get the community excited and more involved in the election process.”
The mobilization efforts have been extremely well-received by the community. “I really appreciate all that the Haverford community is doing for the election this year!” said Deniz Gonen ’23. “It’s sometimes tricky to know exactly what to do in terms of filling out ballots and where to drop them off—because there are so many little things that could happen to disqualify your vote, which is pretty stressful—and I like that there are Instagram accounts like Haverford Votes that provide that information. Also, I thought the voter registration events were really cute too!” she added.
However, even with these resources, some students have already experienced difficulties with this year’s election. “My plans are getting a little thrown out of whack right now because my mail-in ballot has not arrived yet, so I will probably go to one of the voter service centers sometime next week to fill out a ballot there,” explained Gonen, referring to the three full-service locations in Delaware County where residents can register to vote, get mail-in ballots, and return completed ballots.
To combat these types of unforseen roadblocks, Kimmelman stressed that students should take Gonen’s lead in thinking ahead to Election Day. “The most important thing Haverford students can do to prepare for the election is to have a voting plan and to make sure their friends and families have a voting plan. I know that sounds simple, but it is easy, especially for students with packed schedules, to not figure out ahead of time what voting method they’ll use and when and where they’ll do it,” she said.
While there is much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming election, one thing is for sure—the Haverford community is ready and eager to vote. Despite the diminished number of students living on campus, turnout will likely eclipse the 2016 election, when 523 students voted out of 589 registered, for a participation rate of 89%. As Professor Oberfield remarked, “Most people who come through these gates are engaged in politics. It was true in the past, it is in the present, it will be in the future.”