Midterm elections were held on Tuesday, November 8th, which marked many Boston College students’ first voting experiences. Young voters, particularly college-age adults, have always been a key but underperforming voting demographic. Recently, members of the Boston College community have been making efforts to target its part of this demographic with the new BC Vote program.
The program started with Jack Leary, MCAS ‘23, a political science and communications double major who thought of the idea to create a BC Vote program after interning for the Blue Haven Initiative, a group that works on research and funding to increase student civic engagement. He learned about common barriers to student voting and ways that other nearby universities try to boost their students’ turnout at the polls.
Voter Initiatives are not unique to BC, and several universities have recently formed groups with similar goals. At Harvard, for example, the “Harvard Votes Challenge” also tables on their campus and provides information about where and how to register and vote. Boston University also has a club, called BU Votes, that hosts registration drives and creates Instagram story and post templates that students can use to spread information to their friends via social media.
“Basically, all the research shows that the biggest thing preventing students from voting is that they don’t know how,” Leary said. “It makes sense—even though the 2020 election significantly boosted awareness of mail-in voting, there are still fifty [states’] different sets of laws and deadlines that are difficult to understand if you don’t know where to look.”
Students from Massachusetts must remember to register or pre-register to vote at least twenty days before the election, research their early or election day voting times, and locate and travel to their polling locations. For out-of-state students, especially first-time voters, this process can be even more drawn out and difficult.
“I’m from Texas, and our vote-by-mail system is super confusing,” Stephanie Villela, MCAS ‘26, said. “Figuring out all the different steps and deadlines is almost impossible.”
According to a Tufts University study, the national college student voter turnout was about 40.3% in the 2018 midterm election and only 19.7% in 2014. Although the turnout has been increasing, it is still too low, especially when compared to the overall national voter turnout, which was 53%. The growth is mainly attributed to the greater availability of alternative voting methods that allow out-of-state students to participate in elections, one of the features that BC Votes is aiming to raise awareness of.
Leary, along with the Civic Engagement Committee’s Katie Dalton and Kyle Neary, created BC Vote to address this problem. The program began tabling on campus in September to find students who were unsure of their states voting laws and requirements. They then connected these potential voters with student volunteers who sent them detailed information about their state’s voting laws and email reminders to request and mail-in their ballots.
“We connected with a few student organizations and circulated a volunteer form, and I was really surprised at how many people were willing to help out,” Leary said. “We had over fifty people commit to help out with tabling and contacting students.”
According to Leary, the program took a lot of preparation. He had to create a spreadsheet with detailed state-by-state voting information as well as write email scripts for volunteers to use when sending voting reminders. Along with Leary’s work, BC Vote received support from the school and multiple different on-campus clubs and organizations, including both BC College Democrats (CDBC) and BC College Republicans.
“I think there is a lot of room for the program to be expanded upon in the next election cycle,” Leary said. “I was able to meet so many students who were interested in voting but had no idea how, and I think it is important that BC makes a significant effort to provide its students with the resources they need to make their voices heard.”