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Tufts Democrats bring energy to campus for election season

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 07:11



Tufts Democrats is wrapping up two months of election preparation efforts with a week of election drives, canvassing and phone calls to constituents that aim to register voters, educate the public and increase voter participation on Election Day.

The organization has rallied support for various Democratic candidates, including President Barack Obama, Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Congressional candidates Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts and Ann Kuster of New Hampshire, according to senior Bronwen Raff, president of Tufts Democrats.

The group is also advocating support for Question 4, a ballot initiative in Somerville that would enact a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes and receive matching funds from the state under the Community Preservation Act of 2000. These combined funds would be applied to open space protection, historic preservation and affordable housing.

According to Raff, the Tufts Democrats executive board began planning their strategy in August, forming a coalition with Emerging Black Leaders, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center, Tufts Votes and the Institute for Political Citizenship within the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. They also created a new position, membership director, to recruit and manage the expected increase in members in a presidential election year, Raff said.

“We haven’t experienced such an influx of members since 2010,” she said. “It really exceeded our expectations. This semester, we have 75 active members.”

Tufts Democrats held a general interest meeting when the semester began in September in order to start campaigning on campus as early as possible. From there, the initiative to get out the vote has consisted primarily of canvassing, phone−banking and visibility efforts. The support of 27 Tufts students who are interns for Elizabeth Warren has led them to more aggressively campaign for Warren, according to Raff.

The group has partnered with College Democrats of Massachusetts, the college outreach organization of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, headed by junior Taylor Barnard. Together, the two groups sent canvassers to New Hampshire and to other Massachusetts districts, including a two−day stay in Taunton, Mass., during which approximately 100 volunteers knocked on an estimated 6,000 doors, according to Barnard.

“We knock on a bunch of doors, we’re talking to people, asking who they’re considering voting for, if they’ve considered Elizabeth Warren,” sophomore Zobella Vinik, who volunteered to canvass in Taunton, said. “Massachusetts is so interesting, because we have many people who say for sure they’re voting [for Democratic congressional candidate] Joe Kennedy, but they’re [also] voting Scott Brown. So we have conversations with them.”

Residents are generally considered more receptive to canvassing students because they are not paid by candidates to gather support. Still, some residents do not open the door to canvassers, and most try to avoid long conversations or arguments, Vinik said.

“We’re only knocking on doors of people that are independents or Democrats,” Vinik said. “We’re not trying to change people’s opinions if they say they’re voting for Scott Brown. If they say they’re an independent, we give them literature on Elizabeth Warren. It changes case by case. It was common for people to say, ‘I voted for Brown last time, and I’m not happy with what he did.’”

Tufts Democrats have also held four phone−banking sessions in the Mayer Campus Center, calling Somerville residents to promote Question 4. Alex Neff, membership director of Tufts Democrats, volunteered at all four sessions.

“Primarily, we’ve been calling seniors,” Neff, a senior, said. “They’re the demographic that’s most likely to vote ‘no’ because they don’t know anything about Question 4.”

Neff said that most of the residents she contacted were at least partially in favor of the ballot initiative, barring those who opposed taxes on principle.

Tufts Democrats will be posting students at polling places today for “poll−checking,” or checking off the names of people who have voted and calling others to remind them to vote, according to Neff.

“Everything that’s coming to fruition right now has been planned for over two months,” Raff said. “It’s sprint−to−the−finish here. I think we can really accomplish a lot with our volunteers and the energy we have.”

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