Let’s not sit this one out




It is a widely-held belief that the measure of a democracy is its ability to ensure free and fair elections for its people. For Americans, our ability to continue to deliver on this promise relies on our participation in the electoral process. As a country, we’ve struggled; in the past five presidential election cycles, voter participation across the country has consistently been in the mid-50s. Part of MiddVote’s job the last few years has been to reflect on our own progress. As a college community, how have we done?

 In the past two general midterm elections, our participation rate has seen sporadic change. In 2014, we fared notoriously poorly, with only 15% of Middlebury College students (including MIIS enrollees) voting. 2018 showed marked turnaround for a midterm election cycle, with 51% of all eligible students voting — a 36% increase in turnout. How can we sustain this momentum in elections to come, even in primary elections with seemingly less importance?

 For one, we can create a culture of voting. Repeatedly, studies have demonstrated that individuals are more likely to vote when their peers talk about the news and encourage voting. If communities are the springboards for getting people to vote, then it’s hard to imagine a place that could  offer more lift to civic engagement than a college campus. As a college, we should normalize the very act of voting. Registering to vote shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should appear on syllabi. Requesting an absentee ballot shouldn’t be a chore; it should be easy and accessible, understandable and encouraged. 

 We are inviting our peers to think about how they will be civically minded this semester. For many of us, our first opportunity to vote this year comes on Tuesday, March 3. Any Middlebury student can be considered a resident of Vermont and is eligible to vote between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the Middlebury Recreation Center, at 154 Creek Rd. Vermont state law allows any individual to register on election day, at the polls, should they not be registered beforehand.

Those unable to make it to the polls on election day may request absentee ballots in-person at the Middlebury Town Clerk’s office up until Friday, February 28 at 4:00pm.

 For students who may wish to vote in their home states, MiddVote has sent out state-specific, detailed memoranda on how to register and request an absentee ballot, with specific attention to states’ varying deadlines. We hope this dispels confusion surrounding the process, which differs widely across all 50 states and territories. 

 We can do even more than voting, too. Middlebury holds its town meeting on Monday, March 2at 7:00 p.m. Town Meeting is a historic, unique annual opportunity for Vermonters to commune and consider issues of local governance. Residents can heartily discuss the issues at hand before voting the following day. Town Meeting reinforces the centrality of the role communities play in self-governance. MiddVote is also sponsoring Trivia Night on Thursday, March 5 to engage our college community in newfound, exciting civic education programming.

 We hope that Middlebury students won’t lose sight of the important role we play in our democracy: engaged citizens. For some, voting isn’t an option; for others, it’s an infrequent and cumbersome choice. As a community, we can do everything we can to engage everybody in our democratic processes. Let’s not sit this election out.

Zeke Hodkin is a member of the class of 2021 and the President of MiddVote.