As midterm elections approach, Hopkins students join effort to get out the vote

Tuesday, Oct. 16, is the last day to register to vote in Maryland

Anthony Boutros is in Paris this fall, but that won't stop him from voting back home in Texas' 7th Congressional district.

The Johns Hopkins University junior, who is spending the semester studying at The Paris Institute of Political Studies, requested an absentee ballot via TurboVote, an online tool that streamlines the registration and voting processes.

Anthony Boutros

Image caption: Anthony Boutros

"I am very revved up about this election," says Boutros, one of more than 1,800 people who have signed up at jhu.turbovote.org since its launch in January.

TurboVote keeps track of the voter registration regulations for all 50 states, allowing users to register to vote, get election reminders via text or email, and receive absentee ballots by filling out a simple online form.

That Boutros is registered and ready to vote from afar won't surprise his fellow Homewood undergraduates: He spent countless hours during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election encouraging students to vote as part of his involvement with the Student Government Association. After the election was over, classmates told Boutros—then president of the Class of 2020—that they didn't vote because it was too complicated to register or to get an absentee ballot.

"An alarming number of people expressed regret that they had not voted because of missed deadlines and confusing state regulations," Boutros says. "Hundreds of students had not known the voter registration requirements or deadlines or absentee ballot processes. All of these barriers had prevented them from exercising their right to vote and from making their voices heard. I wanted to guarantee that all of these walls would be torn down."

Not long after the presidential election, Boutros began his quest to bring TurboVote to campus. He had first heard about it in February 2017, when he joined a group from the Center for Social Concern at the IMPACT conference, a three-day national event dedicated to service, action, and advocacy. He learned that TurboVote was already in place at more than 300 colleges and universities.

Boutros became an outspoken advocate for bringing TurboVote to Hopkins, earning him the Student Government Association's 2017-18 Student Excellence for Leadership and Service Award. But he's quick to say that he didn't do it alone. His efforts attracted allies across campus, including Gia Grier McGinnis, associate director of the Center for Social Concern. Boutros credits McGinnis with being an advocate throughout the lengthy process, which included making sure TurboVote met the university's privacy standards—a task managed by the Office of the Dean of Student Life and Student Leadership and Involvement—and working with the administration to approve and sign the contract. Once that process was complete, TurboVote's management at JHU was transferred to the Center for Social Concern.

"Students have really advocated for TurboVote as well as other opportunities that are designed to both engage the campus community in elections but also to push far beyond that—to create an engaged student body that has a full understanding of what is going on in the world today and to be able to understand and assert their place in it," McGinnis says.

Boutrous says he was also energized by a groundswell of support from student groups such as IDEAL, Discourse, SDS, Hopkins Feminists, International Studies, Fraternity and Sorority Life, Athletics, the JHU News-Letter, and the Student Government Association's civic engagement committee.

"I was humbled by the process and overwhelmed by the amount of support and passion it revealed," Boutros says. "I think we can see that in the diverse and energized activism that took place last year."

While Boutros is overseas, SGA members are deeply involved in getting out the vote among Homewood students. In addition to directing students to TurboVote, the SGA's civic engagement committee has tried new approaches, including working with the staff at the library to broadcast the Vote411.org voter guide on the interactive board in the atrium of Brody Learning Commons so student voters can make the most educated decisions possible.

"We've been trying to push heavily on social media that this election is too important to sit out. As best we can, we want to encourage students to make a voting plan."
Sam Schatmeyer
Class of 2021

"We've been trying to push heavily on social media that this election is too important to sit out," says Sam Schatmeyer, president of the Class of 2021 and co-chair of the SGA's civic engagement committee. "As best we can, we want to encourage students to make a voting plan. For most undergraduates, this means requesting and then using an absentee ballot. We're encouraging student to use TurboVote as a resource to find out deadlines, boards of election addresses, and options for Election Day."

Although registration deadlines may have passed in students' home states, there's still time for first-time voters to register in Maryland—that deadline is 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Student groups will set up tables across campus that day to assist anyone who'd like to register. Ahead of the deadline, SGA will try to reach more potential voters by setting up TurboVote tabling events this week outside Fresh Food CafĂ©.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Sherwood Room, IDEAL will host an information session about some of the major midterm races, including Congressional and gubernatorial races and their potential impact, followed by a discussion.

Those planning to vote using an absentee ballot can attend a mailing party hosted by the Center for Social Concern and several student groups from noon to 4 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 26, on the Upper Quad.

If students have questions about registration, voting, or seeking information about their respective ballots, they are invited to visit the Center for Social Concern Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., to speak to someone about informational tools and resources from now until Election Day on Nov. 6.