Campaign for change

Examining the ways in which students have been getting involved in the election. This includes poll working, text-banking, canvassing, etc.

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MJ Pennington worked at the polls in Bala Cynwyd Middle School. | Photo courtesy of MJ Pennington ’21

The election of 2020 was unique in several ways. It was the first U.S. presidential election to take place in the midst of a global pandemic, the first in which over sixty percent of the votes were cast by mail, and for some LM seniors it was the first election in which they could vote. As for those who remained too young to vote, they found other ways to get involved. In a survey sent out to LM students, 28 percent of respondents said they volunteered with campaign efforts or election proceedings. The most common way for LM students to volunteer was phone banking. Organizations campaigning for both candidates held phone banks regularly in the months leading up to the election, often specifically targeting voters in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state. Other common ways that LM students contributed to the election process included writing postcards to voters, text banking, and working the polls.

In previous elections, the average age of a poll worker has been 72 years old, placing the average poll worker in a high-risk group for COVID-19. Worried about a shortage of poll workers, many of the young people in America stepped up to volunteer, including several LM students, such as MJ Pennington ’21, who describes poll working as “definitely a positive experience.” Although Pennington acknowledges that there was risk involved in poll working during a pandemic, she says that the polling location she worked at “did a really good job of keeping social distancing, sanitizing all materials, and ensuring mask-wearing.” She also expressed a desire to continue poll working in future elections. When asked why she was motivated to volunteer, Pennington cites a feeling of helplessness at being too young to vote herself, stating that “it seems like in today’s climate, the only way to make a difference is to cast a vote for the right candidate,” and “poll working seemed like a way to help out and be a part of the democratic process.” She is not the only LM student to be motivated to volunteer to make up for an inability to vote.

Many other students who volunteered to assist the election process claimed that they chose to do so because they were too young to vote, and they felt that they needed to contribute somehow. In addition, the majority of those who volunteered contributed to campaign efforts for Joe Biden, and several cited their discontent with Donald Trump’s performance over the last four years as the motivation behind this. Others reflected on the significance of this specific election, with one student claiming, “I think this may just be one of the most important elections of my lifetime.” Another remarked, “This is a historic election, and I don’t want to look back in twenty years and regret not working on it.” It is true that in this election there seems to be more on the line. The current government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has left many feeling disillusioned, and recent events, such as the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and shifting dynamics on the supreme court after Justice Amy Coney Barret’s appointment, have given many a renewed sense of urgency. Of all the major issues that may be affected by this election, LM students responding to a survey were most concerned about the management of the coronavirus pandemic. Other issues that greatly worried LM students were climate change, social justice issues, and healthcare.

Only 8.9 percent of survey respondents were eligible to vote in the 2020 election, but that did not stop them from contributing to the electoral process however they could, whether that was poll working, writing postcards to voters, or canvassing for a candidate they supported. Young people everywhere have been critical to this year’s elections, eligible to vote or not, and LM students were no exception.