by LATIFAH SMITH
On Nov. 7, the University of Mary Washington continued to honor their Day on Democracy tradition by canceling classes on election day to encourage students and faculty to vote.
General elections took place on Nov. 7 from 6 a.m.–7 p.m. Participating voters in Fredericksburg were voting for the State Senate, House of Delegates, School Board, City Council, Mayor, Sheriff and Soil and Water Conservation Director Tri-County/City District.
UMW Day on Democracy was adopted in March 2019 when the university faculty voted to cancel classes so that students had the opportunity to vote. Since then, an array of organizations have worked in conjunction to organize the event each year, which includes providing the information and the means for students to vote. This includes free trolley rides to various polling locations and promoting the day in advance through social media, as well as tabling on Campus Walk.
For the students who may have not been familiar with the election process, there were a plethora of communication methods that were used to explain what students could do to ensure they could actively participate in their civic duty as voters.
The UMW Center for Community Engagement sent out an email a week prior, highlighting the necessary details to facilitate student participation. Such information included what Day on Democracy is and its origins, how to check voter registration status and polling locations.
The student organization UMW Votes’ Instagram account posted about who was on the ballot. UMW Votes also set up tables around campus and hosted events on election day, such as “picnic on the beach” where students could eat on the lawn outside Randolph and Mason Hall and “puppies to the polls” which gave students the opportunity to pet and spend time with dogs during the day.
When asked if she thinks that voting as a student can potentially be stressful without the tools and resources that UMW organizations provide for students, Corbin Poyer, a senior philosophy: pre-law and political science double major, said, “Yes, voting can be incredibly stressful, especially if students are in a new location and haven’t voted previously.”
For many students, this election was the first time they were able to vote. Lily Hoffman, a freshman from Virginia Beach, found it important to cast a ballot in Fredericksburg because of her residency here as a student.
“I felt like it was more important to vote for more localized issues and figures than for a city where I don’t live,” said Hoffman.
Poyer also mentioned the services UMW Votes provides in relation to the election, such as educating students about the contents of the ballot, helping them register to vote and organizing rides to the polls on the Fredericksburg trolley from 9 a.m.–7 p.m.
Freshman Annie Feck cast a provisional ballot, as she is from Texas. She reflected on the process of voting.
“It went pretty well. It was pretty quick and easy, and I would say that there’s no reason to not vote because it’s not hard to do,” said Feck.
According to Sarah Dewees, the director of UMW’s Center for Community Engagement, there was a table that provided information—such as a sample ballot and resources to check their polling location—at the Bell Tower, which was also where students could be picked up by the trolley and brought to the polls. According to Dewees, the process of taking the trolley to the polls, voting and then returning to campus usually takes about an hour.
In addition to offering information and voting access, Day on Democracy also featured several attractive aspects that encouraged students to get out and vote. For example, Juan More Taco had a food truck next to Jefferson Square that provided free tacos for students to enjoy, and there was also free coffee, sodas, donuts and pizza at the information tables near the Bell Tower.
In response to student turnout on Day on Democracy in the past, Dewees said that the busiest time to take the trolley to vote was between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.
According to Dewees, last year about 50 students utilized the trolley’s free ride service from the University to the Dorothy Hart Community Center—the polling location for on-campus students. This year, though, she said that over 160 students took advantage of the service.
“UMW has always been, and I hope it will continue to be, a highly politically active campus, and our high voting turnout is indicative of this,” said Poyer.
She continued, “Voting is important, especially in non-presidential elections like this, because most of us will be living in this area for four years, so positions like the city mayor, sheriff, and district leadership will impact everyone on a daily basis.”
Poyer also commented on her involvement with UMW Votes and how it has helped shape her college experience.
“Being able to educate, inspire, and facilitate students to vote has deeply resonated with me and has provided some of my best memories of my time here,” she said.
Dewees described the mission and purpose of UMW Votes.
“UMW Votes is a non-partisan program dedicated to educating the community about all aspects of the voting process,” she said. “UMW Votes’ mission is to create civically engaged students passionate about participating in our democracy.
When asked about the overall success of the day, Poyer said, “It’s always a blast to hold an event like this where the entire UMW and even the Fredericksburg community come together to celebrate and get to know one another better.”
“Your voice matters, and a simple thing like casting a ballot is one of the most impactful ways to act politically,” said Poyer.
Norah Walsh contributed to reporting for this article.