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Elma Lewis Center Works to Get Out the Vote

No one was getting by Greta Spoering and Bob Fleming’s table in the lobby of Piano Row on Tuesday. Student, faculty, or staff — if they saw you stroll past, you were getting asked the question: Are you registered to vote?

Spoering, survivor counselor/advocate in the Office of Violence Prevention and Response, and Fleming, executive director of the Iwasaki Library, were volunteering for National Voter Registration Day, a national movement coordinated at Emerson by the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research.

At tables set up in Piano Row, the Dining Hall, and the Tenth Floor of the Walker Building, members of the Emerson community could register to vote through #EmersonVotes. Later Tuesday evening, RAs in the Little Building did a “floor storm,” of voter engagement. If people were already were registered, they could get help finding their polling place, or sign up to request an absentee ballot from their home state. 

When all was said and done, 238 people had done one or the other, according to Ashley Tarbet DeStefano ’09, program coordinator for the Elma Lewis Center.

Maddie Friedman ’18 of Houston was one of them.

“I’m so glad you guys are doing this, because I’ve been freaking out,” Friedman told Spoering and Fleming as she used Spoering’s laptop to check if she was registered in Texas. She was, but her family moved recently within the state, so she had to change her address, a process the Lone Star State did not make easy for her. Still, she got it done.

Now that she’s an adult, Friedman said, she knows that whoever wins the presidential election will have a real impact on her life, especially since November’s winner will be in office when she graduates in two years.

“The fact that people my age could really make a difference in the polls is really inspiring, and I think everyone should make sure they’re actually set up to vote so we can have a president who is really good for our country,” Friedman said.

Austin Brown ’20 added his name to a list to get absentee ballot instructions. The Illinois native will be voting in his first presidential election, and while he’s not excited about any of the candidates, he still thinks it’s important to vote.

“I feel like, just based on what happened with the whole Brexit thing, no young people got out to vote, and now it’s all downhill for them,” Brown said.

Choosing the right person to lead the country is crucial, but that’s not the only important decision voters will have to make November 8.

Judy Pryor-Ramirez, director of the Elma Lewis Center, said as a new Massachusetts resident, she thinks the ballot questions deserve a lot of attention. Bay State voters will be asked about legalizing recreational marijuana, increasing the number of charter schools, banning overly restrictive animal cages, and adding new slot parlor licenses.

“I think it’s important that we’re aware of what these questions mean, because it goes beyond one day,” Pryor-Ramirez said.

The focus of Voter Registration Day isn’t the presidential election per se, Pryor-Ramirez said. It’s a broader effort to increase literacy around the voter registration and absentee ballot process, and to increase voter engagement. The Elma Lewis Center provided fact sheets about the presidential candidates, the Massachusetts referendum, and general election information.

Tarbet DeStefano said she’s been hearing that a lot of young people are disillusioned with this year’s presidential election, not feeling an affinity for either of the major party candidates. She said she encourages those students to also vote in local and state elections, because that’s an area where they can always make a difference.

“It’s important to vote, one, because every vote matters in our country. If you have the right and the privilege to vote, then it’s your obligation,” Tarbet DeStefano said. “More specifically, it’s the state and local elections that, for students, I think, will have the bigger impact.”

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