By Shubha Sunder
Arts & Living Editor
On Election Day, 400 Mawrtyrs who had registered locally to vote, cast their ballots at the nearby Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. The first Election Day shuttle, driven by a volunteer from the Smart Women Vote 2004 BMC Campaign, left the campus at 7 a.m. and for the next thirteen hours no voter had to wait longer than fifteen minutes for a ride to/from the polls.
A number of students, staff, and faculty members spent the day volunteering at polling places off campus. Continuous live coverage of the election was aired on a large-screen television in Thomas Great Hall and by 9 p.m. more than a hundred students had gathered in the hall for the Elections Return Party. The party was co-sponsored by Student Activities, Dining Services, the Dean’s Office, the Civic Engagement Office and the Political Science Department.
Despite rumors that poll-workers might try to turn away college students on the pretext that they are not permanent residents of Pennsylvania, most students were able to vote without hassle, although many reported overhearing angry remarks from “rich, obviously Republican Main-Liners” about Bryn Mawr students crowding the polls. In an email to the entire campus on Monday night, President Nancy Vickers reminded students to carry their college IDs to the polls. Samuel Magdovitz, the college counsel, was on hold throughout the day to respond if students experienced problems at the polling place. A few students whose names did not appear on the registration list were able to cast provisional ballots.
“Our aim today is to get out the vote,” said Debra Rubin, director of the Community Service Office, as she distributed Smart Women Vote badges to people boarding the Election Day shuttle outside Canaday Library. Rubin praised the many student organizations involved in Smart Women Vote 2004, a non-partisan initiative to promote voter registration and voter education on campus. She described the level of political activism on campus as “phenomenal. Young people,” she continued, “despite their passionate opinions, often tend to be overlooked at times of election, and it’s so heartening to see students determined to make their voices heard.”
While classes were not cancelled, some students still spent the day volunteering off-campus. Jen Roberts BMC ’05, co-president of BMC Democrats, worked until 7 p.m. at a polling place in Ardmore. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Roberts spent many hours canvassing for local elections and working for the Kerry campaign. While Roberts hoped fervently that Bush would not be re-elected, she emphasized that her main objective was “getting the youth vote out. We are educated and we need to vote.”
Associate Deans of Bryn Mawr Rona Pietrzak and Michelle Mancini also spent the day at the polls. Dean Mancini, a participant in the “Get out the Vote” campaign organized by the MoveOn Political Action Committee, spent thirteen hours in front of a polling place in South Philadelphia checking names off a list of registered voters. “I felt very idealistic,” she remarked, “seeing the efforts people made to get out their votes. It was great seeing many old neighbors and acquaintances at the polls.” Another volunteer for MoveOn, Professor Robert Wozniak of the BMC Psychology Department, had been canvassing for several weeks in a precinct in Pittsburgh to ensure that the local people planned to cast their ballots. On Election Day, he drove to Pittsburgh to remind people in his precinct to vote and to offer them rides to the polls. “By 8 p.m.,” he said, “there was absolutely no one in our precinct who had not voted.”
At 8 p.m., Thomas Great Hall, which had been decorated earlier in the day with streamers and stars, filled rapidly with students. Many students brought along homework, sleeping bags, and pillows to sustain themselves over the next few hours, watching Decision 2004 on NBC. Dining Services provided further sustenance with an all-American buffet of hot dogs and cupcakes with red, white and blue icing. “It’s like watching any race and rooting for a team,” remarked Ruth Zohrer ’05, an international student from Mexico.
As the counting and predictions progressed, the reactions of the crowd displayed overwhelming support for John Kerry. A closer look at the quote board near the entrance, however, revealed greater diversity in feelings. “I love Bush and babies,” said one quote. “I wouldn’t let Bush take care of my pet hamster, let alone my country,” ran another. A more non-partisan quote ran, “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.” But complaints still echoed in a volley of gasps and “no!”s when Ohio blinked red on the large-screen television, the first sign that the crowd’s favoured candidate was losing the race. Students began to leave soon afterwards, although several did stay until past 2 am, when the results of the 2004 election were almost indisputable.