In an election year like no other in recent memory, get-out-the-vote efforts on both sides of the political aisle are hard at work. In the current remote environment, the MC Votes group, comprising Montgomery College faculty and staff, has come up with creative ways to inform and engage students and community members.
The virtual experience has been “a mix,” according to Nik Sushka, service-learning coordinator at MC’s Rockville Campus. While it has opened new opportunities to engage students who may not have been as receptive to voting campaigns in the past, it has also made it more difficult for MC Votes to reach groups not already tuned in.
Sushka said they have been hosting virtual workshops for MC Votes student ambassadors. “These are students who are getting trained and learning about their own viewpoints, about how to make informed political decisions, and then helping to get the word out to other students about resources, deadlines, and opportunities to learn more.”
The virtual environment has allowed students from across the College to participate. The workshops are recorded, making them available any time students have time to participate.
“It’s been good to be able to adapt what we do in leadership development and volunteering in that virtual space,” Sushka said.
Using Zoom has enabled the group to hear updates from Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, vice president of the Montgomery County Government Board of Elections, who highlighted the changes in the election process this year. Among them, many neighborhood polling locations are closed but people can vote at any voting center. One of the hot topics in national news has been mail-in balloting. Zelaya says these ballots can be mailed or turned in at a ballot drop-off location. People who requested an absentee ballot and lose it, or change their minds before turning it in, can still vote in person, provisionally. Their vote will be counted after Election Day.
MC Votes is here to help our students, employees, and greater community take informed political and civic action. We have a simple vision: that everyone would be informed, empowered, and represented.
MC Votes also provides information about local races in Montgomery County and the state of Maryland, including candidate choices for a congressional seat and for the board of education, and ballot questions that will determine how the county budget can be spent by the state legislature. They have also set up events such as Postcards and Politics, which consists of sending postcard writing kits to students’ homes. The students are empowered to reach voters by sending the postcards.
“We’ve had over 50 student volunteers writing postcards with Reclaim Our Vote and the League of Women Voters to inactive and unlikely voters,” Sushka said. “These have been some of the ways we have been able to adapt and do virtual and remote activities with students; it’s been really great.”
One of the student ambassadors is Sabrina Chowdhury, a first-year computer science major.
“I decided to get involved because I would like to make a difference in people’s lives and MC Votes was perfect for me,” she said. “I can learn things about voting and educate people about voting as well.”
Additionally, MC Votes has an ongoing effort with the county’s board of elections to help get more diverse young people who are multilingual become election workers.
This month MC Votes kicked off a virtual Party to the Polls, which this year needs to be socially distanced, and will run until October 30. The group is asking students and employees to walk, run, bike, or drive to the nearest Drop Off Box and post a video or photo of themselves turning in their ballot, then tag the MC Votes’ Instagram or Twitter handles. On Oct. 29, they will also host a 90s vs 0ss Drop It (Off) Like It’s Hot Dance Party from 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Montgomery College Student Life also hosted a Board of Education candidates virtual forum to inform students and the broader community about why the Board of Education is so important and to provide access to the candidates.
“We really want to engage people and celebrate that MC is voting,” Sushka said.
Sushka said early voting is a good option for those who wish to vote in person and avoid crowds, especially if they go to voting centers that might be less crowded. “People need to make sure they feel comfortable and confident in the process. Look up how long the line is at a particular voting center and go in and out,” she said. “
Lastly, Sushka summed up the mission of MC Votes: “MC Votes is here to help our students, employees, and greater community take informed political and civic action. We have a simple vision: that everyone would be informed, empowered, and represented.”
Important dates and reminders:
- November 3: Deadline to Drop Off or Postmark a Ballot
- October 26 through November 2: Early Voting 7 a.m.–8. p.m.
- November 3: Election Day 7 a.m.–8 p.m.
- Vote411.org is a helpful resource for residents of the DMV area. For Montgomery County specifically, the best resource is 777vote.org.