More students join College Democrats in divisive election year

Media Credit: Keren Carrion | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Lande Watson, the president of the College Democrats, said the organization created a senior deputy board because there was such high interest in executive board positions this year. The CDs have had more members join so far this semester than they did at this time last year.

Updated: Sept. 29, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

Leaders of the GW College Democrats say the election year is attracting more members than usual.

More than 350 new members have signed up for the organization so far this year, compared to 150 at this time last year. The organization’s leaders have accommodated the jump in interest by creating a new senior executive board and hosting weekly events leading up to election day, as the group continues to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Levi Debose, the vice president of communications for CDs, said the increased interest is to be expected in an election year at a University that consistently has been ranked as the most politically active in the country.

“We want to help out the campaign in any way, shape or form because it just is that important,” Debose said.

The group held a campaign trip to Raleigh, North Carolina this past weekend. About 100 GW student volunteers recruited 500 local volunteers for the North Carolina Coordinated Campaign, a democratic campaigning organization. They also made more than 10,000 phone calls to people in the Raleigh area.

“We had the goal of getting 120 volunteers and we passed that goal in around 45 minutes,” Debose said. “That’s around, probably over, 1,000 hours that people are going to be knocking on doors, trying to register voters and trying to recruit more volunteers to jump into this presidential election and get Hillary Clinton elected.”

The group is planning a second campaign trip to the battleground state of Virginia two days before election day, Debose said. CDs also held a “dorm storming” event for national voter registration day Tuesday and have planned five phone banking sessions leading up to the election.

CDs created a new senior deputy board of about 10 students, separate from the existing executive board, to give leadership roles to more students after a higher number than usual applied for executive leadership positions.

Lande Watson, the president of CDs, said the application process to be on the senior deputy board opened after the group held elections for the executive board, and some applicants who didn’t earn spots on the executive board ran for the new positions.

The new board focuses on specific political issues and includes positions like senior deputy director of environmental issues or senior deputy director of voter registration, Watson said.

“The senior deputy board is this community of students who really want to take a more active role in College Dems and have some sort of skill or interest in a more specific area,” Watson said.

Watson added that the usually 14-person executive board was expanded to have 16 members this year.

“We did increase that number in itself by having an additional person dealing with development and finances and an additional person dealing with the campaign, so we have two campaign directors,” Watson said.

College Democrats chapters at other universities also have had higher levels of interest this presidential election year.

Eric Dunay, the president of Syracuse University’s College Democrats chapter, said his organization’s increased popularity has been “a bit shocking,” especially after Democrats were divided in the presidential primaries.

“There is definitely still some sort of elephant in the room between Democrats still hungover on Bernie and those fully on the Hillary train,” Dunay said. “However, there have been a lot of kids who want to start doing work for Clinton right away.”

Clinton’s campaign has opened an office in Syracuse, which has given the student group more opportunities to campaign for the nominee, Dunay added.

Mattie Haag, the chair of Georgetown University’s College Democrats, said while the general membership numbers have not noticeably increased, the level of engagement, especially among freshmen, has jumped because students are inspired to elect the first female president.

Haag added that the Georgetown College Democrats will be partnering with the university’s College Republicans, the Institute for Politics and Public Service and the student government to get every Georgetown student registered to vote before the election.

“Basically we are doing everything we can to get involved in this election and offering as many opportunities for grassroots campaigning to our members as possible,” Haag said.

Elizabeth Konneker contributed to reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the College Democrats’ executive board went from 12 to 14 members. The board was increased from 14 members to 16 members. We regret this error.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.