Tuesday began early for College junior Leopold Spohngellert, one of the many Penn students leading get out the vote efforts on the morning of the Pennsylvania primary.
It was 9:30 a.m. and Spohngellert, a senior deputy on the Political Team for Penn Dems, was standing outside the Upper Quad gate, hands full of blue flyers. One student was on his way back to the quad after an early-morning run, when Spohngellert quickly reached for a flyer.
“Don’t forget to vote!” he said.
“Oh, I can’t vote,” the student replied, walking by empty-handed.
He never said why he couldn’t vote, but Spohngellert knew anyway. “I’ve gotten a lot of international students. That’s their best excuse when they ignore me.”
Spohngellert was unfazed by the rejection. In the months leading up to the primary, he helped Penn Dems to register roughly 500 new voters. And at this stage, even a denial is useful for Penn Dems.
“We’re treating the primary as a dry run for the election, finding out what places, what times are best,” said College freshman Rachel Pomerantz, political director of Penn Dems. “Right now, we’re catching people as they leave their dorms and reminding them to vote after class.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans on campus maintained a much lower profile. While Penn for Bernie and Penn for Hillary both had tables on Locust Walk, complete with cardboard cutouts of their preferred candidates, Penn for Kasich Chairman and College junior Joe Kiernan took a simpler approach.
“For us it’s more of a personal approach because it’s a much smaller pool of registered Republicans on campus to whom we can spread our message and get out the news about Kasich,” he said. “The thing is, I know a lot of the Republicans on campus already. I’ve been just trying to run into people, make sure they’re voting. I hope people are voting, that’s all I’m gonna say.”
The College Republicans had no presence on Locust on Tuesday. Instead, the group focused on event programming leading up to the primary, bringing former Senator Jim DeMint and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to campus.
“I’m pleased most of our events came the week before the primary,” said College Republicans President and College and Wharton junior Jennifer Knesbach.
For Penn for Hillary, staying on the sidelines during primary day was not an option. The organization was founded back in June 2014, and includes 30 core team members.
“Today’s primary is the culmination of two years of hard work,” said Vice President and College senior Robert Klein.
On Tuesday, the group sent out blast emails to its 500-person listserv and also planned to phone bank in Van Pelt for Hillary.
Still, Klein highlighted “old-fashioned shoe leather politics” — knocking on doors, giving out stickers and face-to-face interaction — as the ideal strategy for mobilizing voters.
College sophomore Ilan Gold of Penn for Bernie echoed the same sentiment.
“Canvassing is by far the best way to get people out to vote,” Gold said.
The importance of canvassing may be why Spohngellert was so willing to spend a chunk of his Tuesday morning standing outside the Quad flyering.
“I know many of us are disillusioned at the system, but not voting isn’t productive,” he said. “In the end, you’re just not relevant anymore when you don’t vote.”
Or in simpler terms, as he put it, “I’m pretty charged up.”
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