Students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and Durham residents, with less than two months between them and the all-important Nov. 6 midterm elections, made their voices heard as they headed to the polls across the state and cast their ballots during the Tuesday, Sept. 11 primaries.
The day revolved around a community effort to encourage the student body to participate in the NH primary, the majority of which was backed by NextGen America, a non-profit political advocacy group founded in 2013 by philanthropist Tom Steyer.
NextGen – which hosted an event on Sept. 4 to bring awareness of the Democratic candidates for the state’s first congressional district to UNH – operated an information tent outside of Holloway Commons and near the Memorial Union Building (MUB) Circle. Several vans and other vehicles driven by local volunteers dedicated the day to driving groups of students to nearby polling stations – mainly Oyster River High School – to register and go through the voting process, according to Field Organizer and NextGen volunteer Kyle Parks-Damon.
Parks-Damon, a 2018 UNH graduate, has been politically active since age 13, and a part of NextGen as a volunteer for nearly a month before the primaries.
“My job is essentially [to] let people know that [the primaries are] happening,” Parks-Damon explained, adding that his mission was also to make people aware of their voting rights and opportunities.
“There are so many reasons,” he said while stressing the importance of voting, especially for students. “They don’t want to vote because they don’t feel informed enough, but I would like them to know that their interests are political; no matter what their interest is, it relates to politics, and the best way to get those interests actually represented is to get out and vote for your representatives.”
Among the volunteer drivers shuttling students to the polls was Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, a 2017 UNH graduate who majored in Environmental Research Economics and a member of The New Hampshire Youth Movement, an organization that aims to elect government officials that represent current youth values.
“I was out here today trying to get students to go vote,” he said. “I was handing out some information and just asking if they voted yet, and then I was like, ‘You know what’s a good way to get people to vote is to drive them to the polls.’ So I grabbed my car…and lo-and-behold there’s like a group of five to six people waiting for a ride to the polls.”
Sinclair-Wingate, who has also worked with several other local nonprofits and political groups in the past, called his experience as a driver “fantastic” and “very fulfilling.”
A similar sentiment of fulfillment was a common theme among students who participated in the voting process, with a number of them echoing the calls of Parks-Damon and others to make their voices heard when given the chance.
“I think it’s important to vote because [if] people our age and generation…everybody got out to the polls, the difference we would make would be astronomical,” sophomore music education major Lauren Craven said. “With the amount of people who don’t think their voices matter…it’s really sad, so I didn’t want to be one of those people.”
Another student, sophomore mechanical engineering major Sohani Demian, said she took a bus down from the MUB to Oyster River High, and recalled her experience as “fun.”
“It was really easy,” she explained, “I just brought my license [to the polling station] and they help you register.”
Demian, who voted for Democratic candidates based on her stances in favor of education reform and protecting the environment, said she is “pretty excited” ahead of the midterms and hopes “more people go get out [to] vote…that’s when we’ll make a difference.”
Similarly, sophomore bio-engineering major Aaron Johnson, a Farmington, NH native who cast a Republican ballot Tuesday and leans toward Libertarian and conservative stances, said his preferred candidates – including Gov. Chris Sununu (R) and congressional candidate Eddie Edwards (R) – he believes “aligns more along the fundamentals of New Hampshire than I believe the Democratic party or any other party does,” citing the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto.
Johnson added that he felt “great” for getting to vote in the primary, while stressing that “one vote can make the difference of your candidate winning or losing.”
Former NH State Representative Marjorie Smith, who is running for one of five seats in District 6, was one of several candidates promoting their platform not far from the Oyster River polling station. She told The New Hampshire that older generations and groups are “thrilled to see students coming out to vote and to vote in large numbers,” citing the larger-than-usual youth turnout this election cycle.
“…We hope to vote intelligently and thoughtfully,” Rep. Smith said. “And once you vote, we hope that means you understand that you’re now obligated to vote every time there is an election, and if that really does happen, in presidential years and non-presidential years, we can make a difference in this country.”
Caitlin Staffanson contributed to this report.