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More than Half of Athletic Teams Pledge to Reach 100 Percent Voter Turnout

Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writer

More than half of Harvard’s athletics teams have pledged to attain perfect voter turnout in the November elections.

Twenty-four teams partnered with Harvard Votes Challenge, a student-led group run through the Institute of Politics that aims to secure 100 percent voter turnout across the University. In the previous election cycle in 2018, just 48.6 percent of Harvard students voted, according to HVC. In addition to sports teams, Harvard Votes Challenge is collaborating with student organizations and academic departments. Roughly 100 groups have pledged that their members will vote.

Harvard Votes Challenge organizer Madeleine P. Chai ’21, who is also a captain of the women’s squash team, said that by pledging to vote Harvard athletes can empower one another to advocate for issues that transcend sports.

“This summer, and into the fall, we’ve seen that sports is very clearly related to social issues and political issues,” she said. “I think that athletes should definitely be more comfortable with stepping into that space. Athletes do more than play sports; they can speak to a lot of social issues. They’re also students at Harvard as well and they have an important voice.”

One representative from each team that signed the pledge serves as a student leader to ensure their teammates are registered to vote and have a plan to cast their ballot on or before November 3, when the U.S. will hold federal elections.

Gabrielle A. “Gabby” Donaldson ’23, who is the student leader for the women’s basketball team, said her role stretches beyond nudging her teammates to vote. She will also help them sort through the complexities of registering and voting, which have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not as much, ‘Hey, make sure you register to vote and then go to a polling location.’ But, do you even feel comfortable enough to vote in person? Or should you do an absentee ballot request? How does that process work in your state?”

Donaldson added that she is excited to vote for the first time this year.

Women’s hockey player Sydney R. Sorkin ’21 said the close personal relationships athletes share with their teammates is a powerful tool to increase voter turnout.

“Political science research shows that [having a] more personal connection with someone who’s encouraging you to vote is ten times more successful than a blind phone call,” Sorkin said. “Athletes have a really unique position to leverage your whole team, leverage the teams around you.”

For Sorkin, who is concentrating in government with a secondary in psychology, galvanizing her teammates to vote has enabled her to combine two of her greatest passions: political psychology and women’s sports.

Student Athlete Advisory Committee President Matt R. Thomas ’21 said he is happy Harvard athletes have shown enthusiasm about voting this election cycle. SAAC has been working with Harvard Votes Challenge to encourage athlete participation.

“Student athletes, unfortunately, in the past have not been the most politically active and engaged faction on campus,” he said. “Teams have been really receptive to it and some teams have really taken and run with it.”

While athletes are usually busy running from class to practice and back to class on Election Day, they will have extra time to vote this year since the League canceled all fall athletic activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even before that decision, though, Thomas said SAAC had successfully lobbied the Ivy League to cancel all practices and competitions on November 3.

While waiting out the coronavirus pandemic from her home in North Carolina, Donaldson said she is communicating with her teammates virtually to ensure they vote this fall.

“It’s really important for us to realize the efficacy of our vote and realize that hey, we’re athletes, but we’re more than athletes, we’re citizens too,” Donaldson added. “And this is a very important civic duty for us to fulfill.”

—Staff Writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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CollegeWomen's BasketballWomen's Ice HockeyWomen's Squash2020 Election