The University of New Mexico Hillel student organization hosted a non-partisan voting party in the Student Union Building called MitzVote on Thursday. The event was held to encourage students and the public to vote, and highlighting the voting the process as something to celebrate.
“Voting can be scary and it’s scary for young voters who see the political climate we have now,” said Zoe Wiesel, a member of Hillel and senior studying geology. “And making it fun and accessible and something celebrate is a better approach than the normal shouting to get people to vote.”
According to the UNM Hillel website, the UNM location is the center for Jewish student life in Albuquerque. The name MitzVote is a play on the Hebrew word, mitzvah, which means “good deed.” UNM Hillel Director Dr. Sara Koplik, said Hillel International started the campaign to help students see voting as a good deed.
“It’s a program to try and get young people to be participating in civic affairs and in government and in voting because their voice really matters,” Koplik said.
Koplik said Hillel International partnered with the organization #VoteTogether USA to facilitate voting celebrations on college campuses. #VoteTogether’s website said it is using the hashtag, #VoteTogether to make voting “fun and celebratory.”
UNM Hillel received two grants to fund their voting party. One was from #VoteTogether USA and the other was from the Union for Reform Judaism. With this money, the club was able to bring a photo booth to the party, provide food, including cakes decorated with the word “vote” and purchase prizes for a raffle drawing.
“We heard a statistic that having a voting party at the polls encourages people to vote much more than canvassing or calling people — which are also great and effective methods — but we’ve heard that having a party at the polls encourages voting even more,” said Sarah Leiter, a graduate student in anthropology and a community outreach coordinator for UNM Hillel.
According to a Forbes article, about 150 organizations around the country are using the #VoteTogether initiative to host voting celebrations. In a 2017 study from Columbia University, researchers examined non-partisan voting festivals during the 2016 election. It found voting festivals “appear to increase turnout substantially and cost-effectively.”
For Andrew Balis, a MitzVote student ambassador for UNM Hillel and graduate student at UNM, voting doesn’t have to be seen as a chore.
“Voting can be fun. I know that sounds kind of corny, but that’s one of the things we hope to accomplish and also that this is something that the student body at large is doing,” Balis said. “It’s not something that’s limited to political nerds or people who have voted for a long time, it’s something that this campus as a whole cares about.”
Rebecca Prinster, a graduate student in anthropology and MitzVote party attendee, said voter participation is sometimes lacking and she supports events that encourage voting.
“We’re hiring people to make decisions for us and if you don’t vote for who you want making those calls for you then you really can’t complain about the decisions they make,” Prinster said. “I think anything that encourages people to come out, even if it’s just cake that says “vote” on it, I think that’s great.”
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Registered voters can go to Vote.org to find their polling place.
Tom Hanlon is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @TomHanlonNM.