This article is from the 2019 Disorientation Guide, updated to include information about early and mail-in voting.
Welcome to Northeastern! You may be feeling overwhelmed right now between meeting new people, starting classes, trying out different student organizations, and learning your way around campus. But as you settle in, it’s important to take the time to pay attention to what’s going on in the city beyond Northeastern’s campus as well. And no, I’m not just talking about duck boat rides, the Freedom Trail, or dessert in the North End.
Many people know Boston as an international center of higher education, and a world leader in law, medicine, engineering, and business. However, with a critical eye, you will quickly see Boston’s other side. Long-term residents face an increasing wealth gap, a failing transit system, underfunded schools, gentrification and displacement, homelessness, and lack of accountability for the violence of law enforcement and immigration authorities, amongst other issues.
As a “leader in experiential learning,” Northeastern will tell you that Boston is your classroom. That the city is yours to explore and extract lessons from. I challenge this framing by saying that Northeastern students, as Boston residents, have a responsibility to pay attention to local issues, listen to how communities are organizing and responding, and support local movements in any way they can, whether it be leveraging their own skills and resources, or showing up for political action.
One political action that you can take as a Boston resident to support local campaigns and issues that are important to you is to vote or volunteer on a campaign. The following information will provide guidance on how to get involved with local politics and elections.
Am I eligible to vote in Massachusetts?
If you are over 18, a U.S. citizen, and living in Massachusetts (even temporarily as a student), you are eligible to register to vote at your Boston address. However, there are a few things to be aware of if you are registered in a different state but are interested in voting in Massachusetts while you’re a student.
Most state voter laws do not have clear language restricting being registered in multiple states. However, it is a good idea to check with your state’s office of elections about any issues particular to your state.
One state voter law that is consistent across the board is that it is illegal to vote twice. Depending on state this means voting in two places either on the same day or in the same election.
If you do decide to register in Massachusetts, you must technically re-register every time you move to a new Boston address in order to keep your voter registration status active.
How do I register?
To begin your voter registration, go to: sec.state.ma.us/OVR/Welcome.aspx.
If you have a Massachusetts ID you’ll be able to register immediately online.
If you have an out of state ID you must print out a paper registration form and either mail it or drop it off in person to Boston City Hall.
You must register at least 20 days before the election you would like to vote in. After submitting your registration form, you can check your registration status by going to sec.state.ma.us/VoterRegistrationSearch/MyVoterRegStatus.aspx.
Where do I go to vote?
When you check your voter registration status at the link above, the page will also list your polling location. If you would like to vote early, you can also find early voting poll locations, dates, and times at www.massearlyvote.com.
However, because of COVID-19, many states are encouraging people to vote by mail, which is when the state mails you your ballot, you fill the ballot out, and then send it back to the state. In Massachusetts, absentee/mail-in voting eligibility has been extended to all qualified voters for the general election on November 3, 2020. If you would like to vote by mail in Massachusetts, fill out the Massachusetts 2020 Vote by Mail application and then send it to your local election official by hand-delivery, mail, fax, or e-mail. You can find the contact information of Boston's election office, as well as any other election office in MA, on the Find My Election Office/Drop Box page.
Once you've sent your application, you can track your ballot here.
If you still want to vote in your hometown while living in college, you can also use absentee/mail-in voting from your home state. For a guide on how you can absentee vote in your home state, see this guide from Vote.org.
While Massachusetts has been a reliably blue state since the late 1980’s your vote has the potential to sway elections on the local, city, and even state level elections. While these smaller elections may lack the glamour and media attention of the presidential election, their impact on your day to day life is no less significant. Look no further than our Republican Governor, Charlie Baker, who has held the office since 2015. During his tenure, Baker has slashed funding for education, welfare programs, and public transportation. Despite this he was reelected in 2018 with 66% of the vote; his victories coming largely on the back of Massachusetts’ affluent and more conservative suburbs. Thus, while Baker’s support is concentrated outside of metropolitan centers, it is these areas that suffer from the brunt of his administration’s austerity measures. As a college student in Boston, you will likely also deal with Baker’s policies when you take the desperately-in-need-of-repair T or try to get on a perpetually late MBTA bus. By voting for a candidate who actually champions public transportation, welfare, and social services you can help ensure that those left behind by Baker’s austerity measures are cared for in a more meaningful way.
This is only one of many ways in which your vote can significantly sway policies within the city and the commonwealth. For example, you can vote in a progressive city councilor who is willing to challenge the mayor on issues of development and gentrification. Additionally, you can cast a vote in support of important referenda questions. In recent years, Massachusetts has had referenda questions pertaining to charter schools, marijuana legalization, safe nurse ratios, and basic protections for trans people. The vote on non-discrimination protections for trans people won with 67% and young voters and activists were a huge part of that win by volunteering their time to educate voters about trans issues.
Beyond simply voting for the “better” candidate on election day, electoral politics can play a more strategic role in grassroots campaigns. Just as a community organization may rely on public demonstrations to help meet their goal, so too may they leverage relationships they have with legislators and or legislative bodies. There are a number of ways through which this is done. For example, by giving or withholding public support to a candidate, they can influence the stances that candidate might take on an issue. Further, having people in office who champion the causes of the organization can be extremely beneficial. For example, at the city level, organizations and councilors can work together to organize and preside over city council meetings. This not only brings media attention to the topic being discussed but also allows advocates and community members to share their thoughts directly with the councilor and build support for their campaigns.
Who should I vote for?
Your first election after registering to vote, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to find information about candidate and how to know who to vote for. First off, you can visit commoncause.org/find-your-representative to see a list of your current representatives. Secondly, when you check your voter registration status, you can see an example of what your ballot will look like so that you can know which candidates to research. As an example, there will be a city council election this fall where a large number of incumbents, particularly at-large councilors, will be facing challengers. With so many people running, it can be hard to research them all. This is where aligning with and utilizing organizations for education can be really helpful. Some organizations, like JP Progressives (a local chapter of Progressive MA) will create questionnaires for candidates to complete that gather their stances on a range of issues important to the organization. In addition to these resources, keep an eye out for candidate speaking events and public forums. Talk to your friends, teachers, neighbors, and uber drivers.
In short, participating in local elections and politics is about more than voting and really entails educating and aligning yourself with those in the community who are already working out a vision for how we can create a more equitable city and a more just society.