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Instead of going to a hotly contested neighbor state, about 15 volunteers from the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) made the shorter trek to nearby Dorchester yesterday to monitor polls and encourage local voting.
A group of representatives from PBHA, the largest student group on campus with about 1,500 members, shivered outside polling locations to answer questions and survey those dissatisfied with their voting experiences.
“Every election is life and death. People always live and die by the President,” said Laura J. Ridge ’06.
PBHA coordinated its voter mobilization efforts with the non-partisan group Dunk the Vote, a national organization which works to encourage voter registration among minority populations in communities like Dorchester.
The volunteers yesterday sought to address issues of voter intimidation or discomfort by providing information on voter rights and reminding community members of their options.
“This area is primarily Vietnamese and there have been instances of intimidation at the polls,” said Angela C. Makabali ’06. “People have been told, ‘Go home and get your papers.’”
“There are lots of people who don’t feel comfortable asking for help,” said Susan E. McGregor ’05.
Student volunteers said their own difficulties with voting, such as problems obtaining absentee ballots, motivated them to help others navigate the electoral process.
Noting the importance of local involvement, PBHA president Kristin M. Garcia ’05 said, “A lot of times people totally disregard Boston communities that also have a stake in this. It’s not just the national election that matters.”
PBHA’s involvement in voter mobilization is due largely to an effort by the organization to establish lasting relationships with other community programs. Garcia said that PBHA’s efforts extended beyond any particular party.
“[PBHA wants] to work for lasting relationships rather than current political interests,” she said. “The attitude that ‘Those people don’t matter’ is way too common. Our mission is not just about public service, but also about social justice working for broader social change.”
Volunteers spent time on their way to and from polling sites debating the clarity of absentee ballots, the voting process and the merits of electronic voting.
“It is mind boggling that some of these things are designed as badly as they are with no way to check their accuracy,” McGregor said. “There is a single hard drive which is the only record of [votes]...It’s absurd.”
Volunteers’ passion about enfranchisement was reflected in their speedy response to the service opportunity. Though only notified on Sunday night, PBHA representatives were quick to offer their time during the one morning and two evening shifts yesterday. Garcia said that about 15 students volunteered their time yesterday.
“The message really has gotten out. People are so interested in how these issues affect them,” Garcia said
Dunk the Vote, the group with which PBHA worked to mobilize voters, was formed by Ron Bell after he witnessed widespread social problems growing up in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston—in particular, the Carol Stuart murder case of 1990.
Stuart was seven months pregnant when she was shot in the head on Oct. 23, 1990. Charles Stuart, her husband, who is white, informed police that the perpetrator was a young black male, setting off a manhunt in the Mission Hill area. It was later discovered that Charles Stuart committed the murder, a revelation that touched off a storm of protest against racial profiling.
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