Editor’s Note Episode 5: Students hit the polls
As we wait for final results in the recent presidential election, Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein discusses voter engagement at Washington University with Associate Editor Matthew Friedman and Managing Editor Kya Vaughn in this week’s episode of the Editor’s Note podcast.
Music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.
The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:
JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:13-1:29) 53 percent. 42 percent. Those were the voter turnout rates for Washington University students in the 2016 and 2018 elections, respectively. While these numbers may have been a couple percentage points higher than the national averages for college students in those years, just above average isn’t enough for many students who worked to break Wash. U. voter engagement records this fall.
I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them.
Even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of WashU Votes set an ambitious goal. The student group, which is part of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, strived to reach 62.5% student voter turnout this year. While we don’t know the final number yet, I talked to Associate Editor junior Matthew Friedman and Managing Editor senior Kya Vaughn to further break down voter engagement at Wash. U. This interview was recorded the evening of Thursday, Nov. 5 as multiple states had yet to call their winner in the presidential race.
JS (1:30-1:39): First off, Kya, you oversee Forum, Student Life’s opinion section. What had been the general feeling within the student body leading up to Election Day?
KYA VAUGHN (1:40-2:10) This election quite obviously has a lot more weight surrounding it than a lot of elections that we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes thus far. So people are very concerned, and I feel like a lot of the content we’ve had has reflected that. A lot of the time students are trying to take into account the mental health aspect behind it. So we’ve had a lot of op-eds and a lot of articles calling on professors to cancel classes for the day or the day after the election, which we now know has gone on.
MATTHEW FRIEDMAN (2:11-2:48) I think along those same lines, too, in addition to the stress, we saw a lot of excitement on campus regarding the election. I talked to Lindsay Gassman who’s a voter engagement fellow at the Gephardt Institute and she talked about how there was a lot more proactive decision-making from students this year when it came to voting in the election and becoming involved on campaigns and things like that. She said that there were students, first-years over the summer who were emailing her to ask how they could register to vote. And, in general, people seemed to really want to be engaged with the democratic process and make sure that their vote counted, that their voice was heard.
JS (2:49-2:55) Matthew, going off of that, could you expand on some of the get out the vote efforts that have occurred on campus this semester?
MF (2:56-3:57) I talked to Betsy Sinclair, she’s a professor of political science at Wash. U. She talked about how it’s important to make voting, the whole process really feel celebratory. So it’s not just that this is something you have to do, but it’s something you get to do. So in the past Gephardt has done a lot of voter registration drives, they’ve had lots of tabling at the DUC and things like that. My understanding, based on talking to Otto Brown, who is the outreach chair for WashU Votes is that they still were able to do some of that in-person tabling and things like that, but that a lot of it was about social media and generating enthusiasm around voting and registration online. They signed up over 2,500 students between August and October through an online site called TurboVote. That was the third highest mark of any school in the country after only the University of Chicago and Stanford University. So I think that they were pretty optimistic and they were excited about the fact that they were able to register that many people by the social media outreach campaigns and getting all this enthusiasm around voting.
JS (3:58-4:23) That’s interesting to hear, Matthew, since your recent news piece on voter turnout highlighted some seemingly low numbers from the past few elections. It actually reminded me of a news piece that ran in October which quotes a few students arguing that their peers at Wash. U. often don’t show up for protests and other forms of activism and civic engagement. Do either of you have any thoughts on why voter engagement hasn’t been all that high at Wash. U. in the past?
MF (4:24-4:51)) Well, I think that one thing I want to point out, even though the numbers seem pretty low, it was 42% in the 2018 midterms and just over half of students voted, eligible students that is, in 2016. Those numbers are fairly high actually for college students overall. So even though they seem pretty low just generally compared to turnout broadly for the population, Wash. U. compared to most colleges has done a good job.
KV (4:52-5:32) I will agree with that, too, in terms of the sense that, I feel like the University has collectively tried to do more to motivate students to go out and vote. I think everyone kind of recognizes the magnitude of this election right now, students included. And I think we’re kind of at the intersection of all these things that have been going on this year. This has been a big year for activism, we’re in a pandemic. So there’s been a whole lot of things I feel like that have come to the surface this year that have really kind of emphasized the value behind voting and I feel like with, you know, some of the University’s efforts to make voting more accessible to students, it has led to an ease of access for students to go vote.
MF (5:33-6:31) I think also along those lines, Kya, I’m curious to see how students stay involved in activism after the election’s over. Right now it’s five o’clock on Thursday. They haven’t called any election for Biden yet. But there’s a sense that he’s probably going to be the next president. So I think it’s going to be really fascinating to watch and see whether there is still this groundswell of support for activism, and like you asked about, Jaden, are people going to stay holding their elected officials accountable? Are they going to stay in the streets or are they going to go back to brunch, as I think people have used as a cliche. And I think that that’s one thing to watch for, is: How do students react to a Biden presidency? Do they work to hold the administration accountable or is there kind of a return to some sort of perceived normalcy now that Donald Trump might be out of office.?
JS (6:32-6:40) Like you said, we don’t know the official results right now. How have students been feeling these last few days as we all wait for final votes to be counted?
KV (6:41-7:21) Students are very anxious right now. We had a staff list, or a staff editorial, that came out this morning. And, you know, one of the members of e-board shared that she woke up and checked her phone like five times within 15 minutes to see what the election updates are. I’ve heard a lot about people doom-scrolling through Twitter recently. So people are collectively anxious. I feel like especially with there only being a few states left and, you know, it kind of be neck and neck in a lot of those, people are on edge. Tensions are high, feelings are high right now. So students are a little stressed out.
JS (7:27-7:37) Whether or not we have a president-elect by then, Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.