Nov 3rd, 2020, 11:48 AM

Election Day: Looking Back at the Voting Process

By Rebecca Le Goff
A vote being mailed in. Image Credit: Flickr/ShebleyCL
A vote being mailed in. Image Credit: Flickr/ShebleyCL
AUP students abroad are still passionately involved in U.S. politics and the critical presidential election.

As the 2020 presidential election comes to a close, many American citizens at AUP have already successfully voted despite the challenging process of doing so while studying abroad. A survey sent out to AUP students revealed that 94 percent of participants voted, encouraged by the voting support offered by AUP, their own political beliefs and the polarizing candidates themselves.

“I am passionate about civic participation. I will not rest until every member of our student body who holds American citizenship and wishes to vote in the upcoming election has all the information and support they need to accomplish this critical act of citizenship,” wrote AUP President Celeste Schenck in an email sent to the student body in early September. Passionate about voting issues, she has regularly encouraged all American AUP students to exercise their right to vote. SGA Vice President Andrew Callaghan and other SGA members supported President Schenck's efforts by collaborating with Vote from Abroad, an organization that stemmed from former president Ronald Reagan's 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Vote From Abroad aims to help expatriates register to vote and cast their ballots. SGA worked closely with them and organized several campus visits to help as many students vote as possible. 


Callaghan was fully devoted to doing everything he could to encourage and assist AUP students in this process. It seems to have paid off — the survey shows that over an eighth of students voted with the help of AUP's SGA. Callaghan played an instrumental role in organizing the Vote from Abroad project, exemplifying the passion students had for making their voices heard in the 2020 election. “Many of you may have questions on how to register, obtain ballots and mail your ballots to the U.S. and what that process looks like this year, and that’s what I’m here for,” he wrote in an email to students. 

The survey proved that almost all AUP students are still passionately involved in U.S. politics and voted despite being abroad. Interestingly, 44 percent of AUP students who participated in this election voted for the very first time. Annika Zoetmulder, a junior majoring in History, was one of these people. She voted because she felt like she wanted to make a difference. Ana Dasilva, a junior majoring in Global Communication, also voted for the first time. “It’s my duty as a citizen! And so many have fought and bled for that right,” she said as a remote student learning virtually from the United States.

This election was also the first experience voting for T’Anna Johnson, a sophomore majoring in Film Studies. “Voting has a great deal of importance to me. As college students in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1960s, my grandparents were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement. People fought and died for my constitutional right to vote," she said. Johnson was taught from a young age about the importance of voting and the history behind it. "I participated in Volunteer Girls State. That program taught me a lot about the history of women’s rights and the importance of exercising my right to vote to make a difference in important social issues.”

Compared to the 2016 elections, 94 percent of students who responded to the survey expressed that the 2020 presidential elections are more important. Elizabeth Cleveland, a senior majoring in International and Comparative Politics, agreed. “Yes, there was already a lot on the line in 2016 and some can say that was an anomaly. This election is going to confirm or deny that idea,” she said. Because the past four years have provoked a multitude of social movements and national protests, many students think this could be a pivotal moment in American history. “I think it will decide whether what is left of our democracy will fall apart,” Zoetmulder commented. Though it could be said that the 2016 elections were centered around equally decisive issues, students seem to feel that there is definitely more pressure at the moment. “Clearly, the United States is faced with social and political issues in 2020 that are much different from those in 2016," Johnson said. "After the last election, it seems that something very tangible changed in the U.S., and many people are hoping that this election will help unite the country from a political and social perspective."

Protests erupted across America after Donald Trump was first elected in 2016. Image Credit: Unsplash/Roya Ann Miller

Since this election will be the deciding factor for countless debates held dearly to countless voters, the responsibility of voting has been especially emphasized. When asked if they thought everybody should vote, 83 percent of surveyed AUP students said yes. Cleveland decided to vote because she felt it was her "civic duty," and believes that if one is able to vote, they should. Johnson shared the feeling that everyone needs to vote because “it’s your right and it’s a way that every citizen has to make a difference.” Many have even taken upon themselves to spread the importance of voting. Cleveland described herself avidly encouraging her friends and family to vote in the election before today. Zoetmulder was similarly passionate about convincing those around her to vote but felt that it had been difficult at times. “People are so disheartened by the system there is no convincing them,” she said.

Unlike most of her AUP peers, Lou Gutenbrunner, a freshman majoring in International and Comparative Politics, had difficulty in deciding whether to vote or not. From her point of view, her vote in the state of New York would not matter. Since the state has been a consistently blue state for the past few years, her individual vote did not seem essential to the state's electoral process. She felt conflicted because she wanted Trump out of the White House, but she also didn't want to associate herself with Biden, who she described as a “racist idiot with multiple sexual assault allegations.” However, Gutenbrunner claimed she would have felt worse if she hadn’t voted at all, so she voted for Biden under the Working Families Party, which plays an important role in New York politics. She doesn't discourage anybody from voting but seconds activist, writer and sexuality educator Erika Hart when she said, “if they use your trauma and pain to win an election, but refuse to see how they contributed to said trauma, it’s a system problem, not a voter problem.”

For those who do vote, one of the most important elements of the process is staying informed. 33 percent of students' survey responses revealed that being abroad makes it more difficult to follow U.S. politics. Zoetmulder agreed, stating that she has to go out of her way to follow American politics while being abroad. Yet other AUP students seem to think the opposite. Gutenbrunner feels that she is as invested in this election as she would be if she were in the States, and didn't find it any more difficult to follow U.S. politics while studying abroad. “I think that when you’re abroad you could, in theory, easily ignore U.S. politics, but with social media, news apps and all those kinds of things, it is just as easy to follow U.S. politics," she said. "So personally, being abroad has not made it any harder for me to keep up with it.” 

Image Credit: Creative Commons/justgrimes

Only 11 percent of surveyed students felt that being abroad during an election actually made them more invested, while 88 percent felt that they were equally as engaged. Dasilva is a part of the latter group, commenting that if she were abroad, she would be just as involved in U.S. politics. Cleveland felt she would be equally invested in this election as she would if she were in the United States, but commented that being abroad during an election is admittedly difficult. She persevered because she is passionate about a lot of political issues and thinks “there is so much at stake in this election and so many basic human rights are in jeopardy.”

The political issues that influenced AUP students to vote are never-ending. Johnson summarized, “the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, social and racial injustice, healthcare, concerns related to women’s rights and the rights of other diverse communities, including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, were all issues that made me want to vote.” Other students echoed this, some adding that abortion, climate change, the economic crisis, education funding and police brutality were further motivations. 

An outpouring of sympathies for the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg in front of the Supreme Court. Image Credit: Flickr/vpickering

A particularly significant issue in this election has been the nomination and appointment of the Supreme Court judge following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Many strongly believed that the elected president of the 2020 elections should have appointed the next Supreme Court judge. Cleveland agreed saying, "the next president absolutely should have chosen the next SCOTUS judge. Confirming a judge, and one who has never tried a case, less than 2 weeks before the election is abominable.” Zoetmulder believes that this only shows how the political system is broken because Trump was allowed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as the next judge.

Despite her passing, the impact Ruth Bader Ginsburg had on many lives cannot be erased. “I think Ruth Bader Ginsberg had an impact on every American woman’s life," said Cleveland. "Because I study politics, she was an important figure to be able to look up to, especially given her position in the highest court in the U.S.” Johnson seconded this sentiment by saying, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a powerful influence on issues of equality and justice. Her passion and commitment as a Supreme Court Justice and as an advocate for women’s rights was an inspiration to me and serves as a reminder of the importance of living a life that makes a difference for others.” Several other AUP students expressed their anger that Trump was allowed to nominate and appoint Amy Coney Barrett but said they would never forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy.

American AUP students have had to overcome many hurdles when it comes to voting and following U.S. politics from abroad. And yet most have managed to successfully vote. As AUP president Celeste Shenck wrote in a recent email to AUP students, “thank you to each of you who has exercised your right to vote already. When the verdict falls next week, you will know you have done all you could to have your say in the future direction of our country.” No matter the outcome, today's election day will be pivotal.