HamVotes: Improving Collegiate Voter Turnout
As the spring semester unfolded, it was clear to Chris Harrison ’23 that people his age were galvanized by George Floyd’s death in police custody and by the COVID-19 pandemic. The question for Harrison was how to capture that energy to create change. He wasn’t sure what he could do to make a difference.
During summer break, he figured it out. With the help of three friends from high school, Harrison created Impact Change, a nonpartisan website that provides bias-free, easy-to-digest information about elections and candidates across the country. Its purpose is to encourage young people to vote. As the website explains, “Our goal is to inform you about politicians and elections so that you can identify candidates that you like and use your vote to impact change in your community.”
Harrison is a prospective economics major from Lincoln, Mass., who’d never been particularly active in politics. He came up with the idea for the website after he read a blog post by former President Barack Obama that makes a case for voting as an effective force for change. Harrison wanted to reach people like himself — young people who want to be involved but don’t read political news regularly and don’t keep up on elections, especially lesser known races.
Prospective Major: Economics
Hometown: Lincoln, Mass.
High School: Brimmer and May School
He knew that young people vote at relatively low rates. According to the U.S. Census, for the 2016 presidential election, 61.4 percent of the voting-age adults reported that they voted compared with 46.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. Harrison thought that making it easier for young people to inform themselves would make them more likely to vote.
He turned to Wix, a website builder, to create Impact Change, teaching himself a bit of coding to get it to perform the way he wanted it to. The new site is on the way to becoming a one-stop resource for potential voters. There’s a glossary of political terms; instructions on how to vote; state-by-state lists of upcoming elections, and succinct candidate bios.
All the information has not yet been entered into the website; that’s a project Harrison intends to finish as soon as he can. The website has an Instagram to enlist people to help and spread the word about the project. And he may have some help from HamVotes, a nonpartisan team of Hamilton students and administrators that works to promote voting.
“Chris’s website is just doing such a great job of spreading voter education in a nonpartisan way, generated and directed towards students in a way that’s easy for students to understand, which is so important right now,” says Elise Lanier ’22, HamVotes voter education programming chair. She and Harrison are discussing the possibility of recruiting HamVotes supporters to fill in missing information about races and politicians from their hometowns and states.
It’s a big undertaking, but Harrison thinks the time is right for the project because momentum and interest in politics is high among his peers. “I think a lot of people my age, me included, are really seeing now the effects our votes have and that government can have on the way we live our lives,” he says.
The Great Fight to Win Women’s Right to Vote
It was July, 1920, just before the presidential election. Seven decades of women had worked for this moment, for the 19th amendment to be ratified, for the woman’s voice to be heard on the ballot. Thirty-five states had said yes and it was all left in the hands of one state. Tennessee ratified and 27 million women were able to vote.