W&L students ramp up civic engagement efforts as presidential election draws closer

Washington and Lee is leading nationally in Hillel’s MotiVote competition.


With the 2020 Presidential election just around the corner, Washington and Lee students are finding creative ways to keep the community engaged.

“Most people in this country, if they’re going to be energized by voting at any point in their lives, this is it,” Ryan Fulton, ‘21, the president of the College Democrats. “I think the urgency of this election, for people on all sides, is clear.”

Hillel House is hosting the Washington and Lee chapter of the MotiVote/Hillel International competition, MitzVote. Schools across the country are competing to receive the most “points,” which are earned by students taking initiative in the voting process through actions like choosing their voting method, signing up to receive election reminders, and checking their voter eligibility.

As of Oct. 12, Washington and Lee was leading the competition with 50,069 points and 245 members competing against schools with significantly higher student body populations like Oregon State University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Many clubs and Greek organizations are involved in the MitzVote competition, which runs up until the election. Each organization has their own team under the Washington and Lee umbrella.

“We’ve made a team for pretty much every club that has received [Executive Committee] funding in the past year,” said Andrew Tartakovsky, ’23, the leader of the initiative at Washington and lee. “I encourage people that want to get involved to contact their student leaders of the clubs that they’re involved in.”

On Sept. 30, the football team held a cross campus voter registration drive. The student athletes signed up for time slots to travel

campus and encourage students to get registered if they were not already. If a student was not yet registered but wanted to be, they’d get taken back to the coach’s office to do so.

“A lot of people were already registered,” Ty Powell, ’23, a member of the football team, said. “We go to W&L. It’s a pretty, I would say, academic focused campus. And so it’s not really a surprise that we have a lot of active citizens.”

College Democrats put on a similar registration drive Oct. 5 and phone banked virtually Oct. 17. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, the group set up two tables with only two people supervising.

The College Republicans joined Congressman Ben Cline and the Rockbridge Area Republicans to knock on doors and get out the vote Oct. 17.

“College Republicans traditionally attend door-knocking and campaign events for local Republicans running for office, have a debate with College Democrats, get together to discuss policy issues and current events over pizza, bring speaks to campus, and line the Colonnade with flags for 9/11 every year,” said Ally Chebuhar, ‘21, president of College Republicans.

But the pandemic has not stopped them from trying to engage students.

“Recently, we have had a debate watch party via Zoom and are getting ready for the Johnson Program’s virtual event on the 2020 Election,” Chebuhar said. “We are also in the works of starting a College Republicans book club to read conservative women authors.”

But the high participation rate at Washington and Lee is not necessarily representative of all college campuses.

“We’re more involved than the standard student body,” Tartakovsky said. “We’re, by a factor of 20 or even 50 sometimes, smaller in population than all the schools we’re competing against [in the MitzVote program] yet somehow we’re still at the top.”