Across Upper Valley, College Students, Residents Turn Out En Masse to Vote

  • Dartmouth College junior Klara Barbarossa, of Saratoga, Calif., gets a ride from Robinson Hall on campus to Hanover High School to cast her vote in the midterm election in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Shuttles for the students were organized by the non-partisan organization NextGen America. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • NextGen America field organizer Emma Bliska, left, of Lyme, laughs with Grafton County Attorney candidate Marcie Hornick, middle, and incumbent Rep. Polly Campion, right, outside the polls in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Bliska, a 2018 graduate of Middlebury College, and spent the day running an effort to get Dartmouth College Students to the polls to vote in the midterm election. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An unidentified woman stands in the East Wheelock Street median encouraging passing drivers to vote as a vanload of Dartmouth College students gets a ride to the polls in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. The non-partisan organization NextGen America organized volunteer and hired drivers to provide rides to get students to Hanover High School to vote. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lucia Ellerson, 18, of Hartford, middle, steps up to get her ballot at the Hartford High School polls with her mother Terry Cioffredi, left, in White River Junction, Vt., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Ellerson, a first-time voter who was born in Guatemala before being adopted by Cioffredi, said she has been motivated to vote due to her concerned about the treatment of immigrants coming to the United States from Latin American countries. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • NextGen America field organizer Emma Bliska, center, matches students trying to get to the Hanover, N.H., polls with volunteer drivers outside Robinson Hall on the Dartmouth College campus Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Through the course of the day the group provided rides for about 800 students. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Hanover — The handmade “rides to the polls” signs were quickly bleeding into illegibility, the cardboard Michelle Obama cutout was growing soggy and the empty pizza boxes were piling up faster than they could be replaced, but the party showed no signs of slowing as rain poured down on young voting activists at Dartmouth College on Tuesday afternoon.

And a party it was. Whatever fears and frustrations might have driven young people to vote, whatever bitter battles were playing out across the nation, the mood was undeniably fizzy in the spot near the Collis Center, where volunteers for NextGen America, dancing and snacking on cupcakes, shouted to students passing by and guided them toward shuttles headed for the polls.

While few venues could match the celebratory atmosphere here, the turnout on campus — and the attendant enthusiasm — were mirrored in towns throughout the Upper Valley as record numbers of voters filed through polling stations to cast their votes.

“It’s really fun to see people coming out. We’ve had so many people,” said Divya Kopalle, a volunteer for NextGen America, a progressive organization that has poured $33 million into mobilizing young voters in 11 key states. Dartmouth is one of 18 campuses in New Hampshire where the organization has established a presence in the months leading up to the election, using data analysis and youth-targeted strategies such as text reminders and Twitter campaigns to get students excited about voting.

“It’s also about building community,” said Emma Bliska, a NextGen staff member and Dartmouth organizer. A Lyme resident and recent graduate of Middlebury College, Bliska has been holding voter pledge drives, recruiting volunteers, knocking on doors and organizing campus events aimed at educating and energizing students. On Tuesday, working alongside volunteers from Planned Parenthood, she was on overdrive: directing volunteers to different locales around campus, checking in with the town clerk at the Hanover polls, sending data to NextGen headquarters, re-routing lost pizza delivery drivers, posting updates to Twitter using the hashtag #youthvote and overseeing the general flow of shuttles taking students to and from the polls.

“It’s been amazing,” Bliska said, opening boxes of granola bars and fruit snacks to fill the gap between food deliveries. “More people just keep coming.”

The free food admittedly was a draw, but young voters had plenty on their minds as they boarded the shuttles to cast their votes.

“I’m just tired of kids dying in schools,” said David Velona, one of more than 800 Dartmouth students who took advantage of NextGen’s free shuttle service on Tuesday. “Obviously, don’t let kids die in class.”

Velona, a sophomore from New York, said that as a member of the Jewish community, he was hit hard by last month’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He also saw his vote as a way of defying the older generations that think young people don’t care and don’t bother to vote.

Other student voters echoed Velona’s sentiments on gun control, with several of them citing the Friday night shooting of a visiting Providence College student near the Dartmouth campus.

“I feel like it’s been kind of never-ending,” said Sarah Pearl, a junior from Los Angeles. “I think it’s so important that that issue’s addressed.”

Students also emphasized the importance of making their voices heard and fighting what they regard as voter suppression efforts on the national and local level. “I think we need to elect people who accurately represent the young people of America,” said Katherine Taylor, a freshman from Atlanta who was voting for the first time.

At Hanover High School, the Dartmouth crowd merged with a steady flow of Hanover residents throughout the day. Traffic backed up around the school as the polls opened, and the line of voters stretched from the school entrance to the street, said Garrett Muscatel, a Dartmouth College junior who was among five candidates running for the four seats representing Hanover and Lyme in the New Hampshire House.

By the time polls had closed, almost 6,175 people had voted in Hanover, about 30 percent more than in the 2014 midterms, according to NextGen data.

And similar turnout was seen in other college towns in the state, including Keene, Plymouth and Durham.

“Turnout’s been amazing,” Muscatel, a Democrat, said as he campaigned outside the high school. “People are really enthusiastic to get out and vote.”

In Grantham, voters already were waiting at the polls when Town Moderator Lorie McClory arrived to help set up. Town officials had planned for a big turnout, adding check-in stations and a longer line for same-day registration, she said.

“I put chairs out there for them and they sat and read their books while they waited,” McClory said around noon on Tuesday. “We had a huge line out the door but it went really fast. Everybody got through.”

Voters in New London competed for parking around Whipple Hall, as Election Day traffic caused minor traffic delays downtown.

“We had several hundred (voters) in the first hour,” said Town Moderator Michael Todd, who estimated that a third of registered voters cast ballots before 11:30 a.m. “As long as the rain holds off, they’ll keep coming.”

In Hartford, voters were undeterred by the midday downpour.

“It’s my civic duty. Rain, snow, sleet ... it doesn’t matter,” said Mary Christie, whose husband, Democratic state Rep. Kevin Christie, was unopposed for re-election.

Christie, 63, said her vote this year was basically a vote against President Donald Trump and anyone remotely associated with him.

Other voters expressed similar sentiments.

“I always vote, but this year it really matters,” said Brian Smith, 68, a lifelong Hartford resident. “I think the Republicans are letting anything go. They’ve been emboldened ... I’ve never seen voter suppression efforts like this.”

Matthew Ireland, 44, said he was a bit tentative about voting in local races because he’d just returned to Vermont after living in Brazil for 15 years. However, he said, he couldn’t forget the way he felt watching the 2016 election from abroad.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” he said.

Chris Andreasson, who was collecting signatures outside the polls for a future initiative, said the 2016 election caused him to leave the Republican Party and even consider leaving the country.

“In light of what’s happened on the national level, I’m now an independent,” said Andreasson, 67, adding that he still votes for Republicans in the local races and is very happy with Gov. Phil Scott’s performance.

Frank Walker, 62, is less pleased with Scott, based on the gun control legislation he signed into law earlier this year. “The jury’s still out (on Scott),” said Walker, a National Rifle Association member who works at the Sturm, Ruger & Co. gun plant in Newport. “He got pushed into a spot where he had to make a gesture on some gun control.”

Walker said he’s not overly upset about the measures Scott endorsed, but worries they may lead to further infringements on his Second Amendment rights.

Cleaning up NextGen’s tables at the end of the day, Bliska was certain all of her efforts had paid off. “We’ve been reading a lot of articles and watching a lot of pundits talking about how young people aren’t going to turn out for candidates,” she said. “I think today proved that wrong. ... I’ve never seen so many college students show up for anything in my entire life.”

Tim Camerato contributed to this report. Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.