Sponsored by a broad coalition of campus organizations, the Election Day ‘March to the Polls’ encouraged Colgate students, faculty and staff to engage in the historic presidential election by marching to cast their ballots in the Village of Hamilton.
Organized by the Colgate College Democrats and co-sponsored by the Colgate College Republicans, Mabel Dart Colgrove Commons, Students for Environmental Action and the Colgate Vote Project, the March to the Polls began at 9 a.m on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 3. The march took place at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. when students walked from the O’Connor Campus Center to the Hamilton Public Library—the local polling site—to cast their ballots.
Attendants included representatives from the sponsoring organizations along with other students registered to vote in Hamilton to cast their ballots at the Hamilton Public Library.
The event was started in 2018 by the then-senior class and the Colgate College Democrats, according to College Democrats President junior Reed Cleland. Cleland reflected on the inaugural march in 2018, calling it the most direct form of organizing he had ever witnessed on campus.
“It was I think a step forward in that more active approach to politics, which I really liked,” Cleland said. “The goal was to make it become a tradition, and even though we are in a pandemic year, we’ve found a way to make it work successfully. I’m really excited that it’s going to happen regardless of all of the challenges that we’ve faced.”
Cleland, who noted that the number of students registered to vote in Hamilton this year exceeded previous registration levels, emphasized civic engagement as a primary goal of the march.
“We’ve seen on the campus probably the largest political participation that we’ve ever seen. We have 233 students who are registered to vote in the Village of Hamilton, according to the Board of Elections,” Cleland said. “That is very impressive, up from where it was in 2018 which of course was a midterm year. The goal is to get all 233 of those students to successfully cast their ballot and through our methods and through advertising. We hope that that’s what we’re going to do.”
Junior Emma Darcy, President of the Colgate College Republicans, co-sponsors of the march for the first time this year, echoed Cleland’s desire to promote voter turnout and participation in democracy.
“The Colgate College Republicans are dedicated to civic engagement and civil service. The democratic process rests on elections, and we want to encourage our members to uphold their civic duty to vote,” Darcy said. “This event was organized by the College Democrats, but both our groups agree that encouraging high voter turnout is crucial for the sake of democracy.”
Democracy Matters President sophomore Brynn Luedde, said that, along with Darcy, this is the first time Democracy Matters is co-sponsoring the March to the Polls. She echoes the hope of increasing voter turnout and is particularly excited to co-sponsor the event because she believes it reflects the mission of Democracy Matters extremely well. However, she also adds that the partnership between these three different organizations is extremely important.
“I think the fact that so many different organization[s] on campus are involved in this shows that we all share a compelling interest in making sure Colgate students have their voices heard and in fostering a culture of education and engagement with political issues on campus,” Luedde said, adding the importance of representing all political spectrums at the event on Tuesday. “I am hopeful that this event can be the start of a stronger partnership between our organizations.”
Cleland further echoed the sentiment of having the march be a bi-partisan event that further promotes voter turnout and civic engagement, regardless of political affiliation.
“We could have made this a march of the Democrats. We could have just as easily done that,” Cleland said. “But I am of the belief that as a progressive, as someone who wants policies implemented like Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal and [Universal Basic Income], as a social democrat, as a progressive, I will never be able to achieve those goals by excluding people who disagree with me.”
The event was nonpartisan and open to all students, faculty and staff planning to cast their ballot in the village.
“All of our organizations are committed to the greater Colgate community and civic engagement,” Darcy said. “Even though we all may have different goals politically, each organization co-sponsoring the event wants to work together to increase voter turnout and participation in the democratic process.”
Sophomore and co-chair of the Colgate College Democrats Finance Committee Pierce Haley attended the 12 p.m. march and cast his ballot at the Hamilton Public Library.
“Regardless of the fact that I of course wanted to cast my ballot today, I also feel like it’s important to show the Colgate community that it’s OK to be open and passionate about civic engagement,” Haley said. “I also love the community of politically active people here on campus, and any opportunity I can have to meet up with those people and jointly express our appreciation for the way our country works and our political beliefs, I always take that opportunity.”
Haley noted that voting at the Hamilton Public Library seemed to be running smoothly and there were no long lines at that time. However, he expressed some disappointment in the student turnout of the event, saying that no students attended the scheduled 9 a.m. march.
Seven people participated in the 12 p.m. march, making the event well within Commitment to Community Health guidelines, with more students expected to participate in the 5 p.m. march. Democracy Matters worked with U.S. Representative for NY-22 Anthony Brindisi and expected interns from his campaign to attend. Additionally, Dan Butterman, candidate for New York’s 121st Assembly district seat, stopped by the Coop to check in on the event.
The march was not the only method of transportation to get to the polls on Tuesday. The Colgate Vote Project—a co-sponsor of the march—collaborated with First Transit to add the Hamilton Public Library as an additional stop on the Colgate Cruiser routes.
Co-leader of the Colgate Vote Project Sarah Shahidi said that in 2018, the Colgate Vote Project coordinated their own rides to the polls, with students driving Colgate vans and providing snacks on the way. That method of promoting voting among students became impossible to do this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shahidi said.
“Due to [COVID-19] this year, that wasn’t really a feasible option for us, so we thought that probably the easiest thing for Colgate to regulate and the easiest thing for everyone to be able to organize and become aware of would be adding a stop to the Cruiser,” Shahidi said. “The Cruiser already does go downtown, so it won’t take anyone too much out of their way but it should also be a very convenient and hopefully pretty well publicized event.”
Because of the pandemic, the Colgate Vote Project was not able to meet with as many students and directly help them to register as they have done in years past. Even so, Shahidi said that the high-profile nature of this year’s election meant that community members still contacted the Colgate Vote Project for voter and election information.
“Because there is such a big push for this election nationally, there has been a good amount of students and even some parents who have reached out to us and asked us questions about the election,” Shahidi said. “I’m hopeful that even though we haven’t been able to establish the same face-to-face connections that we usually would, we’ve done enough social promotion and talked to enough classes, reached out to enough professors, that students are aware that we are a resource and that we can help them as we would any other year.”
The pandemic affected the March to the Polls as well. Masks and physical distancing were required and groups were not permitted to exceed 25 participants.
Although turnout was lower than what the organizers hoped for, the sponsors and attendees were pleased with the event. During a year where mail-in ballots were casted in greater numbers, organizers say any turnout was successful.
“This was a really great way for students to show their political activism, make signs, to feel a sense of community and the sense that voting is important at Colgate,” Shahidi said. “We hope that students will show up and realize that voting is something that we care about. We want Colgate students to be politically active and politically engaged.”