Students in many of the University’s residence halls woke to the sound of knocking on their doors a few Saturdays ago. As they stumbled out of bed to investigate the commotion, they were greeted by members of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, urging them to register to vote before the Oct. 9 deadline.
The group referred to its effort as the “dorm storm,” a centerpiece of its project to register voters and energize Democrats in the residence halls. This year is the first presidential election in which groups other than the non-partisan Central Student Government commission, Voice Your Vote, may canvass in the residence halls.
In previous election years, canvassers for Voice Your Vote could register voters only during designated hours and were not permitted to display any signs of partisanship. However, in 2008, members of the College Democrats and lawyers from President Barack Obama’s campaign met with University Housing and the University’s Office of General Counsel. The night before the registration deadline that year, the University cleared the group to register voters in the residence halls.
Since 2010, when the University’s Residence Halls Association created a committee to examine the issue, the policy stands that students may canvass only in the residence halls they live in, according to University Housing spokesman Peter Logan.
Though the College Democrats, the University’s chapter of College Republicans and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the policy at the time, arguing that it was too limiting, the code has remained in place even after housing officials re-evaluated it this summer.
The reason, according to Logan, is that the policy offers the “most workable approach” to balancing concerns about the privacy of students with the efforts of political groups to reach the broadest constituency of students.
“Because of literally the huge number of student organizations on campus, it can become very intrusive in a student’s privacy when non-residents are coming into the building,” Logan said. “It’s not to say that other organizations don’t have good points of view; it’s just that there are so many.”
Registration of on-campus residents was a priority for the College Democrats, according to LSA sophomores Mary Bridget Lee and Jacob Light, co-chairs of the ResHall Dems committee.
In an interview Thursday after the registration deadline passed, Lee and Light said getting underclassmen who are likely first-time voters registered and prepared to vote was a critical issue for them.
“The residence halls are a huge resource for us in the upcoming election,” Lee said. “A lot of times you forget that so much of the student body lives in the residence halls. It’s silly not to have those resources.”
To engage voters in the residence halls, Lee and Light said the committee organized canvasses throughout the semester. They also equipped committee members who are living in the dorms with voter registration forms and literature about how and where to vote.
“More than anything, the ResHall Dems really prepared dorm residents to be the go-to person for questions about voting and questions about the election,” Light said.
Light and Lee said they obeyed the resident-only policy during the “dorm storm” event and in their other efforts in the residence halls. In the two months between the start of the semester and the registration deadline, Light said the group registered about 150 to 200 students in the residence halls.
Though that figure represents only a small percentage of the group’s total — approximately 450 voters on Tuesday alone and about 5,000 this election cycle — Light said the efforts in the residence halls were crucial for the group.
“Politics is not just candidates — it’s going door-to-door, phone-banking, writing, social media,” he said.