Group Continues Efforts Ahead of 2020 Election
The proportion of Terps casting ballots in midterm elections more than doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to a recent report from the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education. This upward trend, mirroring a national uptick in student voting, is thanks in large part to the efforts of the university’s TerpsVote coalition. Several BSOS students are leading the charge.
Gideon Epstein, a senior government and politics major, and former co-chair of the nonpartisan TerpsVote coalition, discussed the amount of work and sheer manpower that went into this change: more than 50 events tabled, 2,800 students registered to vote, and 5,000 students engaged in actual voting, not to mention the hours spent reaching out to various student groups and campus leaders. Epstein said he was excited to see the coalition’s efforts paying off in such a big way.
“What’s even more powerful than the results through numbers is just the personal growth that I had as a student — especially being able to talk with fellow students about issues that they care a lot about,” he said.“Hearing their stories, that was super impactful for me.” The soon-to-be December graduate wants to pursue a career where he can work directly on the ground and hear people’s stories.
The UMD Student Government Association (SGA) also plays a large role in supporting TerpsVote. Ireland Lesley, senior government and politics major and Student Body President, has spent hours tabling for the initiative, and is glad the SGA is able to support such an impactful and timely initiative.
“College is the perfect time to get students involved in the democratic process,” she said. “Often, it’s the first time many of these students are voting.”
One of the ways Lesley got involved in the TerpsVote efforts is through her class with Professor Michael Hanmer of the Department of Government and Politics, an expert in civic engagement research. As they discussed in class, one of the most effective ways to get people to vote is through face-to-face interactions. Epstein, who was also in the class, says sometimes class time was spent going out to talk to students and register them to vote.
This year, junior economics major and BA/MPP student PJ Saumell serves as the student co-chair of the TerpsVote Coalition. He says he is working hard to educate students about the upcoming census, promote the importance of local elections, and set the groundwork for 2020. In preparation for the big election year, the coalition is already in the planning stages, figuring out how to reach the most students with messages that support civic engagement. This November 18, they will be hosting their first TerpsVote Conference, which will feature Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other notable figures. The group plans to host these conferences each semester, and is working with Student Entertainment Events (SEE) to bring big speakers onto campus that will help promote civic engagement and encourage more Terps to hit the polls.