On Election Day, students at the College expressed their interest in the presidential race by participating in activities that ranged from canvassing in the heart of West Philadelphia to converging on Goodrich Hall to watch election coverage.
John Earle ’09, Erin Samenfeld-Specht ’09 and Frank Zimmerman ’10, organizers of the group Ephs for Obama, spearheaded an effort to bring 11 students to West Philadelphia to encourage eligible voters in the area to vote. They joined a projected 15,000 volunteers for Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, a number equaled by his Republican rival, John McCain. McCain’s volunteers, however, were concentrated more in rural areas of the state.
After having canvassed in New Hampshire twice in the last month, the group chose to travel to West Philadelphia because they felt the race was more contentious there and more electoral votes were at stake – 21 compared to four. “Obama is safer in New Hampshire while Pennsylvania is McCain’s Alamo,” Earle said. “He has pulled out of several states and thrown all his resources at Pennsylvania.”
Most of the group arrived on Sunday. On Sunday and Monday they plastered Drexel University with pro-Obama posters, went door-to-door reminding people in West Philadelphia where they could vote and distributing literature. Yesterday they were each assigned to different polling stations where they answered questions, served as line managers and poll monitors and entertained voters who were waiting on long lines. “Given that this is a Democratic town, we want to make sure that people don’t leave lines,” Earle said.
For Emma Bene ’09, who was stationed in a low-income district in which all but a few of the 400 residents were projected to vote for Obama, the experience was inspirational. “I’ve never seen so many people get so excited about voting. Twelve or 13 year-old girls stand around [the polling station] with voting signs and they’re singing chants supporting Obama,” she said. “People honk their cars as they go by and there are tons of people gathered here in Obama shirts.”
Emma Davenport ’09, who took the semester off to work on the Obama campaign in West Philadelphia after spending the summer working on it in Indianapolis, helped facilitate the involvement of Ephs for Obama there. Due to her commitments to the Obama campaign, however, she could not comment on her experiences until after the election concluded.
When NBC declared that Obama captured Pennsylvania, Williams volunteers were relieved. “Everyone here at [Obama’s] headquarters is elated,” Bene said. “People were freaking out because McCain was looking like he was going to take the state.”
Around campus, activities revolved mostly around the watching of election coverage. Williams Voter Registration planned a party in Goodrich Hall last night where students could gather to see results as they came in, watch election-related skits performed by Combo Za and eat over $1000 of snacks, pizza and gelato.
The event was well attended. At 8:30 p.m., about 150 students were found in both lower and upper levels of Goodrich. And about 600 to 700 students were expected to pass through Goodrich through the duration of the night, according to Will Slack ’10, co-head of Williams Voter Registration.
In accordance with a Record poll conducted two weeks ago which projected 87 percent of eligible students would vote for Obama, many were supporting the democratic candidate. Students were clad in Obama t-shirts and pins and cheered every time CNN announced that he had captured a state.
The party in Goodrich was sponsored by the Dean’s Office, the Office of Campus Life, College Council, the Leadership Studies Program, the Office of Public Affairs, the Record, Wood Neighborhood and Dining Services.
Outside of Goodrich, small gatherings of friends watched election results in their common rooms across campus as well. An entry in Sage, for instance, organized an election party. “We’ve been thinking about this [party] for a month,” said David Monnich ’12.
Dodd Neighborhood hosted an election night sleepover. Approximately 40 students were expected to gather in Dodd Living Room to stay up and watch the results as they come in and play election-related games. “We posted maps on the wall which we will be marking as results come in,” said Cameron Nutting ’11, Dodd social committee co-chair, adding that students that came closest to guessing the outcome of the election would be awarded prizes.
Although most students at the College that registered to vote already submitted their absentee ballots before Election Day, students registered to vote in Massachusetts did so yesterday at the Williamstown Elementary School. Those who lived in neighboring states drove home. Jared Quinton ’10, after the urging of his parents, drove back to New Hampshire – a swing state – to cast his vote.
Yesterday’s events marked the end of student political activism associated with the presidential election. Student reactions to the levels of activism on campus have been mixed.
“Williams has been more active than I thought it would be. For the first presidential debate, students filled Paresky Theater and lounge,” Slack said. “That was stunning.”
However, first-year Sylvia Molina ’12 believes the College community is apathetic. “I definitely expected a lot more than what I saw,” she said. “We were a lot more vocal in high school.”