As a kindergartner, Lucas Carmel ’19 was in the voting booth, with his mother, helping her submit her ballot on Election Day. The early childhood memories of voting, as well as the political conversations over the dinner table as he grew up, helped shape Carmel’s identity as a voter.
As a college student majoring in politics, Carmel wants to help get more Pomona students to the polls. So he has enlisted a team of volunteers – many of them first-year students – who are reaching out to individual students.
Messages are sent via text or Facebook Messenger from about 30 student volunteers who gently nudge and remind their friends and fellow classmates to register to vote, and to request a mail-in or absentee ballot if needed. In addition, they are providing nonpartisan resources for students to learn about the issues in their districts.
Why is he doing this? A few years ago, Carmel got a hold of a Tufts University study that showed that only 17 percent of Pomona College students who were eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterm elections.
“That was totally shocking to me. I knew that non-presidential elections had low turnout but I was still surprised our voting rate was so low given the high number of politically-engaged students on this campus,” says Lucas, who penned an op-ed in The Student Life a few years ago on this topic.
He also took action.
With the support of the Politics Department, Carmel and the team of volunteers have set up a station in the basement of Carnegie Hall. Their goal is to get at least 75 percent of eligible Pomona students registered and get 30 percent voter turnout for the midterm elections.
“We in the politics department are thrilled to be able to support Lucas in his efforts to get more Pomona students voting,” says Professor of Politics Susan McWilliams.
“We hope students will cultivate all sorts of habits of civic engagement while they are at Pomona. Voting is only a small part of what it means to be civically engaged, and of course not all students are eligible to vote. But for those who are eligible, we hope this small act of registering to vote (and voting) will help them become more engaged in public service and leadership.”
In preparation, Carmel contacted the head of Tufts’ National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) who directed him to successful nonpartisan voter campaigns underway at other universities and colleges across the nation. In addition, Carmel interviewed his advisor, Professor David Menefee-Libey, who explained some of the misconceptions regarding why young people don’t vote: They’re not lazy, but other issues keep many from the polls, he told Carmel.
“A recent Pew study revealed that about 75 percent of nonvoters are not voting due to logistical concerns, confusion,” says Carmel. “Where to get a stamp? How to request an absentee ballot? Where’s their polling place? The same thing is true for college kids – but if you’re concrete with people and help them with the process, you can eliminate many of those barriers.”
His strategy to get eligible Pomona students to vote is all about making the process easier. It’s also about making direct contact to assist them with the various steps of the process.
Carmel draws from his summer job working on a congressional campaign in New York. The field director was intensely focused on direct voter contact – nothing was more important.
Carmel and his volunteers went through class lists identifying people they know – a friend, a classmate, a fellow spibling (someone who lived in their first-year sponsor group), someone who was on their Orientation Adventure trip. They started the effort during National Voter Registration Day with volunteers hunkering down in Carnegie and sending Facebook messages or text messages to the people on their lists.
Phases two and three are about follow-up reminders, helpful nonpartisan resources with ballot information and answering any logistical questions.
The process has been streamlined thanks to an existing partnership between the College and TurboVote, a nonpartisan online service. All a student has to do is register directly on the site to request an absentee ballot. TurboVote sends a pre-stamped return envelope to each registered student.
So far, Carmel’s campaign has resulted in 560 student sign-ups – twice the number of students who voted in the 2014 election.
“It is important to emphasize the idea that instead of going to vote, you are a voter,” says Carmel. “Voting should be part of an identity, and that piece is really important for college students in particular.”