Over the last few weeks, Evan Ringel ’17 and Lucas Elek ’17 have been registering students to vote and helping students apply for absentee ballots by tabling in Paresky and holding a voter registration party. The two have assisted at least 200 students in getting registered.
What makes the effort successful is that students can take all of the necessary steps to register right at the table. “There’s a sense that it’s not going to happen unless someone spurs [students] to do it, but it’s here in front of [them], which makes it easy,” Ringel said. The tables Ringel and Elek have set up feature multiple laptops for students to submit online voter registration forms and request absentee ballots, a printer to print forms that need to be submitted by mail and envelopes and stamps.
But the table’s greatest asset is Ringel and Elek themselves. Having someone with experience there to answer questions about how to fill out forms is hugely important, Ringel said. “It’s nice that if I have a question like, ‘What do I do for this?’ someone can actually answer it,” he said. By providing support for each aspect of the voter registration process, Ringel and Elek create a situation where all someone has to do to register is go to lunch at Whitman’s.
The voter registration party is another way they’ve been bringing the ability to register to campus in a way that doesn’t feel laborious to students. Asking people to show up somewhere to have a good time is significantly more appealing than asking people to fill out registration forms. Registering to vote takes a maximum of 15 minutes and, in Elek’s mind, it’s the duty of every citizen to vote in every election. Ringel agreed but expressed understanding as to why students feel disengaged. “Especially at Williams, where there’s so much going on, applying for a ballot is one of those things you can just push off until later,” he said. In his experience, lots of students registered to vote when they were in high school, but many don’t end up voting due to the hassle of applying for and returning an absentee ballot.
And it’s that reality, the fact that voting being a hassle is such a strong deterrent to young people participating in the democratic process, that drives Ringel and Elek to be passionate about their efforts. Both admit that what they’re doing isn’t changing the outcomes of any elections. Not only do many students at the College live in traditionally left-leaning states, but the relative scale of their operation makes it almost impossible for them to change the outcome of elections.
However, the two present their work as having a different objective. Ringel tells me that it is, in part, a fight against apathy: “Williams College as a whole can be very apathetic,” Ringel said. Ringel and Elek’s efforts attempt to combat these feelings and give students a sense of political involvement. “The process of voting is a way of stepping over that laziness,” Ringel said.
Voter registration in Massachusetts ends on Oct. 19, and students can vote in national, state and local elections, if they choose to register under their Paresky addresses. If students choose to register under their home addresses, they need to ask for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them at the College.