Voter Registration as Performative Activism
In the midst of a high stakes election cycle, it’s near impossible to avoid one question on campus: “Are you registered to vote?”
The answer may be simple, but that won’t keep volunteers from traveling across state lines just to ask. Progressive organizations such as Boston-based Blue Revolution regularly bring out-of-state volunteers to the CCP campus to run voter registration drives. Considering registering new voters to be conducive to increasing voter turnout, canvassers from typically democrat-voting states such as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey view voter registration drives as a way to insert themselves in the political process of battleground states.
“When people come from outside the neighborhood or outside the state, they mean business,” said Dan McCool, organizer of Blue Revolution, who flies in from Boston once a month specifically to register voters at CCP. “They’re no longer just crouched in front of a laptop screaming at a stranger on the internet,” he added.
As for how much of a difference canvassers such as McCool are actually making offline, students are skeptical.
“I wouldn’t sign up with a creep with a clipboard outside in the cold,” said student Jordan Washington. “I always get the same question over and over again,” he said, emphasizing that the process feels especially obnoxious because he registered when he turned 18 and already votes every year.
This concern is reflected in the relatively impersonal canvassing process itself. “We don’t really talk much,” organizer McCool said about his interaction with new voters. “People sort of register and then go about their day, and you try to find someone else really quickly.”
The dismissive and impersonal attitude of canvassers raises questions about the efficiency and significance of this type of voter registration drive on campus.
“It’s easy to just lie and walk away” said student Yogan Hernandez. “I get that every voter matters, but there has to be a better way to do this,” he added. “Maybe the school can send out emails and give forms out in class.”
Increased involvement of the school or community members in voter registration drives was also suggested as imperative to establishing trust with new voters.
“I registered in high school, and I trusted them because they’re my teachers,” said student Gabby Ortiz. “But [canvassers]? I don’t trust them enough to give them anything.”
While a common concern for students, organizers such as McCool do not prioritize local outreach or forming canvassing teams that are representative of the CCP community, choosing to instead focus on relatively arbitrary quotas.
“There is definitely a class difference in who has the leisure time to do political activism,” McCool said about the lack of student volunteers on his canvassing team. “At the same time, we need to register 50 people this week to stay on target.”
Due to a lack of information about upcoming school-sponsored voter registration events, canvassers such as McCool are still the primary avenue for voter registration on campus. However, students can still register online at register.votespa.com or by filling out a registration form available at the Vanguard office at S1-12F. April 13 is the registration deadline to vote in the April 28 primary election.
If unsure about your registration status or polling location, you can find that information online at https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/voterregistrationstatus.aspx