Autumn arrived in Ithaca this weekend, bringing clear skies, cool temperatures and a new urgency to the presidential election. With election day now just six weeks away, Students for Kerry kicked off the fall campaign season Saturday with grassroots efforts focused on two of the most hotly contested swing states. While one group of students phoned voters in Missouri, another group traveled to Pennsylvania to register voters.
“We’re going to do this every weekend from now until the election,” said Elliott Klass ’05, co-president of Students for Kerry.
Klass led a group of 15 students who met at Collegetown Bagels on Saturday afternoon for a phonebanking effort. The students took advantage of free weekend minutes on their cell phones to call residents in St. Louis to find out which candidate they supported and what issues were most important. In slightly less than two hours, the students made 1,066 calls.
Meanwhile, Nina Fixell ’07, co-president of Students for Kerry, traveled to Williamsport, Pa., with 10 students, where they went door-to-door registering undecided voters.
“We probably knocked on well over a hundred doors while we were there,” Fixell said. “We worked with the Lycoming County Democratic Committee, although the actual voter registration was nonpartisan,” she added.
According to Fixell, Students for Kerry plans to return to Pennsylvania every weekend from now until Nov. 2, as long as enough students volunteer. She urged interested students to come to Students for Kerry’s weekly meetings in Kaufmann Auditorium at 6 p.m. Wednesdays.
“A lot of people that went hadn’t ever done anything like this before, but I think they really enjoyed themselves,” she said.
Both Klass and Fixell believed that student grassroots efforts like the ones this weekend would make a big impact in the presidential election.
“If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here [phonebanking] right now,” Klass said.
“I don’t see how anyone could look at the 2000 [presidential] election [which was decided by 537 votes in Florida] and tell me that students can’t make a difference. If we turn out the student vote, we can win,” he added.
The phonebanking effort was organized under the aegis of a national progressive group called “Democracy on the Quad,” Klass said. The group has organized efforts at 18 other schools ranging from Harvard and Amherst to the University of Wyoming, and according to their website plan to make hundreds of thousands of calls to the 17 swing states to try and influence the outcome of the elction. Klass said that “Democracy on the Quad” had provided Students for Kerry with more than 200 pages of phone numbers from Missouri to begin with, as well as scripts for the student volunteers to read from.
Student callers asked every person they spoke with which candidate they were likely to vote for, how strongly they supported their chosen candidate and which issue was most important to them. The purpose of the calls was to give organizers in swing states like Missouri a database of voter preferences which they could use for efforts to get out the vote closer to the election, Klass said.
“If the organizers know that someone is planning to vote for Kerry, then they’ll make sure to call them and remind them to vote on Election Day,” he added.
Students who volunteered for the phonebanking were pleased with the experience. “Being in New York, you feel like there’s not much you can do, it’s almost a feeling of impotence,” said Alicia Amdur ’05.
Amdur, who said that she had spent the summer interning with the Kerry campaign in Florida, felt that the calls to swing states were a great way to get involved. “If students at colleges around the country do their part, it will make a difference in the election,” she added.
Although Missouri is a closely contested swing state, St. Louis typically votes heavily Democratic, and the results of Saturday’s phonebanking made that apparent. “Of the people we got in touch with, 58 percent planned to vote for Kerry, 19 percent planned to vote for Bush, and 22 percent were undecided or were not planning on voting,” Klass stated.
The most important issue to Missouri voters was healthcare, followed by Iraq and the economy, he added.
The College Republicans, not to be left out, are also planning grassroots efforts in the presidential election, said Mike Lepage ’05, chairman of the College Republicans. “The last week of October, we’re going to Pennsylvania for the whole weekend, and we might also go on earlier weekends [as well as] possibly do some phonebanking” he said.
Like Klass and Fixell, Lepage also cited the close 2000 election as proof that student efforts can make an impact. “Both campaigns are going to be working extremely hard at turning out the votes, but Kerry’s falling poll numbers show that he’ll have to work extra hard,” Lepage said.
“Democrats have historically been better at turning out the vote, but we’re catching up,” he added.
Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer