Taking place in a divided nation amidst a global pandemic, the 2020 election was marked by extraordinarily high levels of voting, with record-breaking early and absentee voting in many states. As of press time on the morning of Nov. 4, major news organizations were reporting that several battleground states still hung in the balance and neither candidate had secured the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election.
On campus Nov. 3, approximately 600 students, faculty, staff, and local residents voted at Middletown’s Voting District 14, located inside Beckham Hall in Fayerweather, according to Diana Martinez, assistant director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, who oversaw Election Day operations. Wesleyan also hosted an Election Day registration tent adjacent to the Freeman Athletic Center, where anyone who hadn’t registered prior to the Oct. 27 deadline could both register and vote on Election Day. Masks and social distancing were required at both locations. Martinez reported that voting activity on campus went very smoothly, and thanked the community for their diligence in adhering to the COVID-19 safety measures.
In-Person Student Voters Weigh In
There was a steady flow of voters in and out of Fayerweather around midday, yet lines remained short. Housemates Ana Finnerty-Haggerty ’21 and Lizzie Edwards ’21 walked over to the polling site together and along the way discussed candidates on the ballot, as well as a Middletown bond issue related to riverfront development. They both chose to vote in person in Connecticut to “make sure my vote counts,” as Finnerty-Haggerty put it. She noted that some of her friends from swing states strategically chose to cast absentee ballots in their home states.
Though she’s only living in Connecticut for four years during college, Edwards, who does volunteer work in the community, believes that “local politics really matter” and made a point to educate herself on all of the local issues and races in addition to the federal races.
The two students said politics are a frequent topic of discussion in their house. They were compelled to vote on issues including climate change, systemic racism, economic disparities, and immigration reform.
Isaac Slomski-Pritz ’22 is from Illinois but also chose to vote in Connecticut this year. After this election, he hopes that the country can find a way to close partisan divides and produce “less vitriolic name-calling, less othering of people who disagree with you.”
Erica Clark Gould ’21, another in-person voter on campus, whose family resides in Paris, France, said, “I’m just hoping to have more of a democratic political system in place” following the election.
Student Engagement Supported on Campus
Improving students’ education about and engagement in the democratic system has been a major focus at Wesleyan for the past year through the Engage 2020 (E2020) initiative. Over 30 students received funding from the E2020 fund this year to support work on voter registration, issues advocacy, and campaigns. This fall, the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships sponsored a virtual E2020 Speaker Series—open to all members of the Wesleyan community and the broader public—featuring faculty, students, alumni, and outside speakers addressing a range of critical issues related to the election and public life. Through E2020, Wesleyan also convened hundreds of other institutions of higher education across the country in committing to principles around developing civic preparedness in students and encouraging their participation in political life.
In the days leading up to the election, Wesleyan urged students, faculty, and staff to go out and vote, and offered opportunities for the community to discussion the election, learn more about the issues, and support one another. Due to the pandemic, many of these events were held virtually, but on Nov. 2 the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) hosted an in-person, pre-election fireside chat and s’mores event during which students could safely gather outside. Despite cold and blustery conditions, over 65 people participated in four different locations, and faculty and staff helped facilitate socially distant and masked discussions about the election, the future, and issues of concern. Read more and see photos from the event.
In the days to come, as more is learned about the election results, Wesleyan will continue to offer opportunities for its community to come together and make sense of the implications. At noon on Nov. 6, the Government Department, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and the E2020 initiative will sponsor a virtual roundtable discussion debrief event featuring American politics faculty Logan Dancey, Erika Franklin Fowler, Alyx Mark, Steven Moore, and Justin Peck.
Additional photos of Election Day are below: