On the eve of Election Day, the student-faculty-staff coalition F&M Votes was in overdrive, peppering the College Houses with reminders, setting up a voter education table in Steinman College Center, and posting signs at the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center (ASFC), where Franklin & Marshall College students living on and around campus may cast their ballots between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
With the contest between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, too close to call -- and statewide races for attorney general and U.S. Senate playing out with aggressive television ads -- the campus was abuzz with speculation about which candidates might prevail. The Oct. 31 release of the latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll, followed by other statewide and national polls, also had people talking, as Pennsylvania once again was deemed a battleground state. Getting out the vote took on new meaning.
Student organizers in the Democratic and Republican camps were rallying their troops with voter-education efforts and a planned debate between the College Democrats and the College Republicans at 7:30 p.m. Monday night at the College Center.
"We are ready to go," said Jeff Kempler '15, treasurer of the College Republicans. "The College Republicans are very excited about the upcoming election …. We are working with the (Lancaster GOP) victory center and doing all we can to get Gov. Romney elected."
Wyatt Huppert '14, president of the College Democrats and the organizing intern for F&M Votes, said the energy and enthusiasm of Democrats remained "very high" during the final hours before the election.
"Getting out the vote has always been a crucial concern of College Democrats, regardless of the status of Pennsylvania," Huppert said.
Approximately 800 students and a handful of faculty and staff completed new or amended voter registrations in Lancaster through F&M Votes this year, said Nicole Hoover '09, co-chair of the coalition. That's about 150 more registrations than the organization has collected previously -- even in 2008, when voters were choosing between two new presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and Obama, then a senator from Illinois. That year, McCain held a rally at the ASFC and Obama spoke at adjacent Buchanan Park. Enthusiasm among young voters was at an all-time high, recalled Hoover, who was a student at the time.
Four years later, Hoover, who is the academic coordinator in the Department of Philosophy, co-chairs the voting coalition with Associate Professor of History Van Gosse.
F&M Votes was founded in 2004, after a federal mandate to correct "extremely low" turnout among young voters, Gosse said. That year, an estimated 1,000 F&M students voted in four precincts -- up from 150 in 2000. The organization's efforts were so successful that some local residents complained too many students were voting, influencing local politics when they only lived in the area part of the year.
"This was not a vanilla effort," Gosse recalled.
History of voting in force
In 2008, in Lancaster City's 9th ward, 4th precinct -- in which 75 percent of all precinct voters were F&M students -- more than 1,500 people voted, Hoover said. F&M students were thought to have accounted for between 1,000 and 1,200 of those voters.
"We almost tripled the number of voters in any other precinct," Hoover said. "So, the students could see that getting the vote out makes a huge difference locally."
The College invited the candidates to visit campus this year, but Pennsylvania was not considered a prime swing state until recent weeks. Through the summer and early fall, the F&M poll and other surveys showed Obama with a double-digit lead.
Still, Hoover said more people seem to realize "their voice matters."
Cameron Koob '16, of San Diego, Calif., an aspiring government major, is one of them.
"I believe in exercising advocacy, and the best way to do that is to vote," said Koob, who is active with the College Democrats. "I would rather vote in Pennsylvania than in California, because I want my vote to count."
F&M Votes began registration drives on student Move-In Day this year and continued its efforts at the weekly Common Hour series, when the entire campus community is gathered for discussions on timely topics, including the election. The group also visited classes to encourage students to transfer their registration to Lancaster so that they have a voice in local issues -- and to increase the likelihood that they would vote.
"We want to get to the point where students are saying, 'Leave me alone. You've already asked me seven times," Gosse said in mid September.
On Election Day, F&M Votes members will serve coffee and doughnuts at the College Center atrium. Around 7 p.m., volunteers will run through the dining halls urging those who have not yet voted to get to the ASFC before polls close at 8 p.m.
F&M Votes stresses to students that voting is "not only a right but a responsibility," Hoover said.
"We let them know that here on campus, their voice is so powerful," she said.