Gunderson: Only for Democrats? Well, That's the Point.

Campaign strategies shouldn't be conflated with civic duty.

by Gigi Gunderson | 10/31/19 2:05am

Going to school in New Hampshire is a dream come true for any political junkie. As one of the last truly “purple” states, razor-thin margins decide our elections: Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s most recently elected senator, won by 1,017 votes, or about one class at Dartmouth. Our status as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary makes the Granite State a hotbed for grassroots campaigning and opinionated political action, and this political involvement has defined my time at Dartmouth.

Last fall, I was the Dartmouth campus organizer for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. I spent 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, educating students on how to vote in New Hampshire and trying to persuade students to vote for Democrats. Last week, a column in The Dartmouth by Sydney Allard argued that political groups on campus use manipulative tactics to persuade voters. While voter education, persuasion and other turnout strategies may have seemed heavy-handed or even scandalizing, as Allard alluded to, door-knocking, text and phone banking and canvassing (with “Commit-to-Vote” cards) are typical campaign strategies for both Democrats and Republicans, locally and nationwide. Large campaigns seek to meet voters where they are — knocking on doors, calling phones and having short conversations with potential voters in the hope of informing and persuading. 

The Dartmouth College Democrats and other progressive organizations did not and do not claim a monopoly on political campaigning on campus — in fact, I was surprised by the seeming lack of action by the College Republicans. Across New Hampshire, the GOP was knocking doors and canvassing just as vigorously as the Democratic student volunteers Allard took issue with (myself included). I would hope that the College Republicans would encourage like-minded students to turn out to the polls just as much as the College Democrats do ­— frankly, the more people involved in our democracy, the better. 

New Hampshire takes pride in its unique politics, and the College Democrats are proud to be a part of this legacy of political activism. Alongside our efforts to turn out voters on campus, we have been fighting tirelessly for the simple right to vote for every student in New Hampshire. Our efforts to repeal HB 1264, a state law attempting to change the definition of “resident” that would force out-of-state students to get a drivers license, have not focused on the right to vote only for out-of-state students who vote Democratic. Instead, we believe in, and will continue to advocate for, the rights of every single student, regardless of party affiliation.

The College Democrats didn’t campaign in the 2018 midterms because of a sleazy social agenda to trick our peers into voting for candidates they disagreed with. I myself campaigned because I believe in U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster’s work to support veterans, because I believe in U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s policies to combat the opioid crisis, and because I believe in Garrett Muscatel ’20’s ability to speak for the students of Dartmouth as a state representative for Hanover. We campaigned because we wanted our peers to feel informed when they walked into their polling booths at Hanover High School. We got involved and stayed involved in politics because we want to make the world a better place. 

For all those looking to vote here in the Granite State: Whether or not you “plan to vote Democratic in New Hampshire,” you can register to vote at the Hanover town office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you have more questions, any member of the College Democrats would be happy to answer them. We’ll tell you why to vote Democratic, and yes, we might try to convince you to vote Democratic, too. 

However, if you disagree with us, we won’t criticize you for having different views, and we’ll help you to register to vote all the same. Because a thriving political climate doesn’t damage Dartmouth — it enhances it.

Gigi Gunderson ’21 is the former president of the Dartmouth College Democrats and a former campus organizer for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Katie Smith '22, who contributed to the writing of this column, is currently the communications director for the College Democrats.

The Dartmouth welcomes guest columns. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter. Submissions may be sent to both opinion@thedartmouth.com and editor@thedartmouth.com. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.