Midterm elections 2022 with AU
How America's most politically active student body spent Election Day
For many students at American University, the most politically active college campus in the U.S., Election Day is sacred.
This election cycle, both leading up to the midterm elections and on Election Day itself, some students devoted their time to phone banking, working on campaigns, registering others to vote and monitoring the results of races by attending watch parties.
Approaching Election Day: AU Votes and campaigning
For some students, Election Day and the time leading up to it was spent encouraging their peers to vote and assisting them throughout the process.
AU Votes, a nonpartisan initiative launched this semester to help students navigate voting, helped prepare the AU community to cast their ballots leading up to the midterm elections.
“Youth vote is extremely important, and not everyone feels confident in voting and feels comfortable voting and feels as if their voice will be heard,” said Emma Baumgarten, a freshman in the School of International Service and social media director for AU Votes. “So part of AU Vote's mission is to kind of encourage students to vote, have their voice be heard and kind of be here as a resource and as support for students.”
One of the most common problems students have been coming to AU Votes with is where they can submit their mail-in ballot, something they worked to clarify for students this election cycle.
“A lot of people didn't know where to mail their mail-in ballot, and it's simple things like that, that create such a barrier,” said Alyssa Levin, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs who is also a social media director for AU Votes. “It's just information. So we just really wanted to open up those barriers of people asking, ‘Where do we drop this off?’ ‘How can we request our mail-in ballot by mail?’ and ‘My ballot never came?’ ‘What do I do?’ There are fixes to these. And we're really just trying to close that gap in information and make sure that everyone on campus and even off campus have the opportunity to vote.”
Lucy LaVigne, a sophomore in SIS, works as the social media director for YOUth for Beto. LaVigne created social media content informing voters about Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for the Texas governor. O’Rourke lost the gubernatorial race to Republican incumbent Greg Abbott.
According to her, making information accessible is a big help to voters leading up to Election Day.
“I really feel like it makes an impact because we get so many DMs from people about how they're going out to vote, how they made a plan, how they were inspired. And so it just was really nice to know that it makes a difference,” she said.
LaVigne said part of the outreach goals were to help remedy deficits in voter turnout by making young people feel connected to politicians. She also cited AU’s politically engaged student body as a motivator for her work.
“In the past, there's been a really low youth turnout for elections as a whole,” she said. “And so when we create these [posts] for Beto, our goal was to make sure that young people felt heard, they felt seen by a campaign and also that they know that they're vote matters.”
Christian Damiana, a graduate student in SPA, said that AU helped prepare him both for his role as Matt Frumin’s campaign communications director and serving as AU’s Commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D07.
“My education definitely helped me significantly, and gave me the skills and the motivation to serve others and to make sure that we're doing the best to be stewards of our neighbors,” Damiana said.
“AU students historically have not voted in large numbers,” Damiana said. “And that's something that I find unfortunate and so, throughout the campaign we did work to do outreach to AU students. My understanding is that yesterday and, a few days before, more AU students than normal did end up voting, both in their local ANC race and for the D.C. council.”
Ainsley Frederick, a sophomore in SPA, is another student who worked for a campaign. She worked as a lead coordinator for Youth for Patty. Patty Brooks ran to represent Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District in the house and lost to incumbent Republican Mike Flood. According to Frederick, in addition to making policy information more accessible, her role made her able to advocate on behalf of youth issues with Brooks’ campaign.
Despite the loss, Frederick said she was glad to have the experience as their efforts have paid off in other ways.
“I think giving people, Democrats, Republicans and independents, a hope that there is something better than what we're seeing on the national trend is really good and I'm really grateful to be a part of that,” she said.
Election Day events encouraged students to get out the vote
AU College Democrats focused on getting out the vote in areas beyond the AU community. Throughout the afternoon of Election Day, the group held a phone bank event where student volunteers could drop by to reach out to voters. Jackson Reynolds, a junior in SPA and the vice president and director of political affairs for AU College Democrats said this gives people more insight on the issues facing other regions of the country and how that influences campaign strategies.
“Doing phone banking in particular is a really good way to allow students to get involved in close elections all across the country without actually having to physically be there,” said Reynolds.
AU College Democrats phoned over 600 registered voters on Tuesday afternoon to ask about their plans to vote and share information about polling places, according to Reynolds.
“Being able to let people know 'hey, you do have the ability to make your voice heard here, and this is how you can do it,” Reynolds said. “There's been some people that I've talked to that are like, 'I don't support the Democrats.' Great, but here's where you still vote because at the end of the day, it is still about making sure everybody's voice is heard and has access to casting a ballot.”
In addition to making sure students knew how to get their ballots in, AU Votes stationed themselves on the quad during Election Day to answer students’ voting questions and distribute “I Voted” stickers. Students also wrote down issues compelling them to vote.
“A lot of people are getting really individual to things about them, talking about gun violence and stuff like that,” Levin said. “So it's been really, really inspiring, seeing all everyone's different motivations and how they're linked just through power. Everyone's motivations are so incredibly powerful and will make change.”
Lizzie Williamson, a senior in SIS who is registered to vote in Minnesota, a big priority was preventing election deniers from holding office.
“It became a much bigger issue to me to vote in this midterm because I would be voting in an area that has typically been very red and I'm a blue voter, for the most part,” Williamson said. “So I really wanted to put my vote towards potentially trying to eliminate election denial and kind of just increased stability within the electoral machine, essentially.”
Eli Duncan-Gilmour, a senior in SIS who is registered to vote in New York, said one of the biggest issues on his mind was voting out Republicans and blocking them from picking up more seats.
“If [Republicans] take power, you know, they've proven that they're just behaving like fascists right now. So I think that you know, not voting? It's just out of the question,” he said.
Magnolia Mead, a junior in SPA and the president of the Sunrise Movement chapter at AU, is worried that if Republicans dominate either chamber of Congress, it will be more difficult to pass effective climate policy.
“Climate policy, like the Inflation Reduction Act, won't be possible to pass,” Mead said. “Because, as we've seen, the GOP does not take climate change seriously. They're still figuring out if they even believe in it or not, many of them. So that's not going to be possible like it was last year.”
For Emma Godel, a graduate student in SPA who worked with AU Votes, the most important item on her list is voting rights.
“Everyone has different issues, you know, climate, health care, environment, LGBT rights, you know, it goes on and on,” Godel said. “But I would say that our work is especially important, because without this movement, none of those reasons will be able to make it to the polling place.”
Election night on campus
The SPA and School of Communication Undergraduate Councils and AU’s Leading Women of Tomorrow chapter hosted a midterm election watch party in SOC’s Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater Tuesday night.
AU College Republicans also held an election watch party, located in the East Quad Building. The event featured food, a Fox News live stream of the midterm results and a Senate prediction game.
Representatives of AUCR declined to be interviewed by The Eagle during Tuesday’s watch-party.
Kyra Thordsen, the SPA council president, said the midterm elections were “a really good time” for the community to come together. The event party included refreshments, MSNBC’s live coverage of the midterm results and a Kahoot quiz about elections and government.
AU College Democrats was initially a co-sponsor of the watch-party, but removed their sponsorship to keep “things nonpartisan [and] make sure that all sides are represented,” Thordsen told The Eagle.
Sam Spivak, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences who attended the SPA and SOC watch party, said that being on AU’s campus made them more aware of politics.
“I was pretty involved back home but now … it feels more real because I'm an adult, which is just scary to admit,” Spivak said. “I’m feeling pretty terrified right now.”
Most attendees of Tuesday’s event with the SPA and SOC Undergraduate Councils and Leading Women of Tomorrow who spoke to The Eagle said they were watching elections in Pennsylvania and Georgia. Much of the crowd cheered when MSNBC updated results for U.S. Senate elections in those states.
When MSNBC called wins for Republicans, boos took over the crowd.
Ben Piccarillo, a freshman in SPA and an undergraduate senator for the Class of 2026, told The Eagle he thought that despite a mixed mood in the room, hopes for Democratic control of Congress were too optimistic.
“There’s a lot of high spirits in here,” Piccarillo said, “but [Democrats in the crowd] shouldn’t have as high spirits.”
Anshul Shukla, a freshman in SPA and first-year fellow for programming for the SPA Undergraduate Council, said, “It was really fun to see this [event] come into fruition. I know everybody on the council worked hard.”
During the watch party, a group of students seated towards the back of the room shouted remarks about candidates as results came in, and voiced support for various Republican candidates.
Shukla and Maya Check, a first-year fellow for advocacy in the council, told The Eagle it was interesting to see many different opinions from other attendees.
“You can get a lot of different perspectives because people are from lots of different places,” Check said.